Bills at Capitol would block sick time and wage ordinances

Supporters of the city’s new safe and sick time ordinance pushed back against a bill introduced at the state Legislature that attempts to block the new rules from taking effect this summer.

The bill, known as the Uniform State Labor Standards Act, has also raised concerns among those who want to see Minneapolis enact a higher minimum wage. Introduced by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, the bill would preempt local governments from creating their own rules for safe and sick time, minimum wages or other employment benefits, explicitly placing that power in the hands of the state.

Garofalo didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, the chief author of an identical proposal in the Senate, said the bills aim to prevent a “patchwork of inconsistent labor standards,” which he argued would “create confusion and a huge burden for businesses and small businesses in particular.”

“It would be extremely difficult for us to keep track of different rules and regulation in different cities and counties throughout the state,” said Miller, the CFO of Miller Scrap, a family-owned scrap metal and recycling business.

Daniel Swenson-Klatt, the owner of Butter Bakery Cafe in the Kingfield neighborhood and a supporter of the earned safe and sick time ordinance, said that patchwork already exists. Swenson-Klatt described complaints about new burdens and complexity as a “front” for business owners who don’t want to see their costs rise due to the new rules.

He said bills designed to target locally approved ordinances were a “challenge to a democratic process” that, in Minneapolis, included a series of focus groups and listening sessions with both workers and employers.

“I know that there were folks in both Minneapolis and St. Paul who felt like we worked really hard to be listening, to bring in as many different voices (as possible),” Swenson-Klatt said. “There were compromises made. There were people who (said) this could have gone further.”

Miller denied that the bills specifically targeted the earned safe and sick time ordinances already approved in the state’s two largest cities or the potential city minimum wage ordinance now under discussion in Minneapolis. He noted that similar bills have already passed in more than 20 states, including several that border Minnesota. Critics have linked many of those bills to ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that works for the passage of conservative-leaning bills.

The House version of the preemption bill advanced Feb. 2 through the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance on a party-line vote, with no DFLers in support. The companion bill in the Senate got through its first committee hearing Feb. 6.

Minneapolis’ earned sick and safe time ordinance requires employers to offer at least one hour of sick and safe time for every 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours per year. The ordinance applies to workers who spend at least 80 hours per year on the clock in Minneapolis, even if their employer is based outside city limits.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in October seeking an injunction against the ordinance. It also asked a judge to find the ordinance unlawful.

In January, a Hennepin County District Court judge denied the Chamber’s request for an injunction. But Mel Dickstein also raised questions about the legality of imposing the rules on non-Minneapolis employers, and agreed to stop enforcement against businesses located outside the city until after a hearing.

On Jan. 27, the Chamber appealed the portions of Dickstein’s ruling that allowed the ordinance to stand.

St. Paul has also adopted a sick and safe time ordinance set to go into effect July 1, the same day as Minneapolis’ ordinance. Last summer, the Duluth City Council established a task force to draft recommendations on an earned safe and sick time ordinance for that city.

Swenson-Klatt said cities are stepping in where the state has refused to act.

“If you’re going to take this away from Minneapolis and St. Paul, you need to talk about this on the state level, then,” he said. “They haven’t been willing to do that.”