St. Paul joins Mpls in considering paid sick time ordinance

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman share a laugh at the annual Breakfast with the Mayors event Tuesday at the Town and Country Club. Credit: Photo courtesy of Lisa Jaster

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman on Tuesday announced plans to form a task force to discuss citywide paid sick leave, a move Minneapolis has already taken. 

Coleman, the third-term mayor, plans on extending earned sick and safetime to all city government employees by next year. All full- and part-time St. Paul employees currently have the benefit, but the extension will apply to more than 1,000 temporary employees and about 700 Right Track interns.

Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges spoke in favor of such paid-sick-leave proposals Tuesday at a breakfast hosted by the the Minneapolis and St. Paul Area chambers of commerce at the Town and Country Club. 

“Clearly people want a level playing field, but it’s also a public health issue,” Hodges said. 

Coleman said St. Paul needs to lead by example, adding that the city will work to understand the concerns of businesses.

The remarks came about a year after Hodges first unveiled her vision for a Working Families Agenda, which also included a controversial fair scheduling proposal that faced push back from businesses. She admitted that her decision to refocus the agenda wasn’t necessarily a popular one, but said, “it was the right thing to do, given the solution.”

A 19-member task force in Minneapolis has been hosting listening sessions and studying sick and safe leave. It will present its findings to the City Council in late February.

Equity the ‘best strategy’

Both mayors stressed the importance of equity to the growth of their cities, especially in light of Minnesota’s widening racial disparities. Hodges highlighted Minneapolis’ investment in workforce-development programs and its Cradle to K plan.

“Equity is the best growth strategy that we have,” Hodges said. “… When you invest in our people, we grow and prosper as a community.”

She noted Minneapolis’ participation in the White House’s TechHire Initiative that aims to train people for tech jobs in traditional and nontraditional ways. The city has already placed 180 people in jobs averaging $50,000 a year in pay, Hodges said 

As part of the initiative, the city forms partnerships with companies who agree to hire people who complete the programs, Hodges said.

“They make sure women and people of color get those opportunities on the front end,” she said. “… It’s infinitely scalable.” 

Coleman said equity is something that everyone in the community has to help develop. For businesses, that could mean participating in St. Paul’s Right Track professional-skills training program for youth. For others, it could mean tutoring or mentoring.

“We can’t continue to be a society where there are the haves and have nots,” he said. “It’s plain and simply embarrassing.”

He said the community needs to look inward and do things differently when it comes to addressing racial disparities, noting St. Paul Public Schools Supt. Valeria Silva for her “challenging,” and “disruptive” work.

“Every city in this entire country is one incident away from a major disruption,” Coleman said. “If we’re not serving (communities of color), then we’re not doing our job.”

Both mayors also took a light-hearted tone at points during Tuesday’s breakfast. Coleman joked about going down the Red Bull Crashed Ice course and professed his Bruce Springsteen fandom. He joked that people should stop asking him for tickets to Bruce Springsteen’s February show in St. Paul, because he doesn’t have any.

Hodges said she has her Springsteen tickets, and behind Coleman, “I think I might vie for the second-biggest Springsteen fan that you know.”

Several other public officials attended the annual breakfast, including: Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, St. Paul City Council Member Rebecca Noecker and Minneapolis City Council Members Jacob Frey and John Quincy.