Three council members support $15 minimum wage

Bender, Warsame and Quincy also reject a carve-out for tipped employees

Three City Council members announced their support for a $15 minimum wage with no exceptions for tipped employees in April, about a month before city staff are expected to unveil a draft municipal minimum wage ordinance.

Council members Lisa Bender, Abdi Warsame and John Quincy issued the joint statement April 6, aligning themselves with Mayor Betsy Hodges in opposition to a carveout for tipped employees, including restaurant servers and bartenders, a pivotal issue in the minimum wage debate. While the idea — alternately known as a “tip credit” or “tip penalty” — has the support of the broad array of restaurant owners, Quincy said it was now unlikely to win the support of a majority on the council.

“If we’re going to be doing any raising of the minimum wage, I don’t think there’s enough votes to be saying we’re going to consider a tip penalty,” he said, adding that his priority in issuing the statement was to “take out the tip penalty issue.”

By planting their flag at $15 an hour, the three have gone a step further than Hodges, who said she supports a higher minimum wage but hasn’t suggested a specific number.

City staff are expected to unveil a draft municipal minimum wage ordinance in May, and council members have said they plan to act on that proposal in the late spring or early summer.

The Pathway to $15 campaign, backed by a coalition of Minneapolis restaurant owners, and Service Industry Staff for Change, an advocacy group made up of restaurant servers and bartenders, are pushing for a carveout for tipped employees, arguing that the alternative is to raise prices, cut staff and even do away with tipping altogether, limiting the earning potential of those paid partially in tips. A city-commissioned study found that restaurants would have to raise prices less than 5 percent to adjust to a $15 minimum wage, but many in the industry who support the carveout argue menu prices would increase much higher than predicted.

The issue of a carveout for tipped employees is far from the only unresolved question; although advocates have pushed for a minimum wage of $15 an hour, staff could propose to set it at a different number.

In the meantime, many council incumbents are facing challenges this city election year from candidates who explicitly support a $15 minimum wage. Quincy and Warsame are among them, and Quincy acknowledged that it was a factor in the timing of the announcement.

“We’re also at the point, now, during the election cycle, that we’ve all put this information out in some form or another in our responses to various questionnaires, so I thought this was the time to make some clarity, to provide some insurance to folks on where I think we’re heading as a City Council,” he said.

Quincy said he was still open to a phase-in of the higher minimum wage, pacing the wage hikes differently for small and large businesses and a lower minimum for youth workers — among other ideas that have surfaced during the minimum wage debate and which could end up in city staff’s proposal.

“Whether it’s $15 or $12.50 with escalators, those are all the details that we need to still be talking about,” he said. “But I think the direction is — recognizing this is going to take a number of years — $15 is a real and achievable number.”