Duluth City Council to consider support for increase to Minnesota's minimum wageTonight, the Duluth City Council will consider a resolution in support of raising Minnesota’s minimum hourly wage to at least $9.50, with the promise of future adjustments pegged to the inflation rate. If it passes, Duluth will become the first city in the state to take a stand in favor of boosting the minimum wage.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Tonight, the Duluth City Council will consider a resolution in support of raising Minnesota’s minimum hourly wage to at least $9.50, with the promise of future adjustments pegged to the inflation rate. If it passes, Duluth will become the first city in the state to take a stand in favor of boosting the minimum wage.
But it won’t be the last, said Joe Sheeran, communications director for Minnesota 2020, which describes itself as a progressive think tank. He said similar resolutions are wending their way through the Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils.
“It’s shameful how long it has been since we last raised the minimum wage,” said Duluth City Councilor Sharla Gardner, who co-authored the resolution to be considered tonight.
The last increase, in 2005, brought Minnesota’s minimum hourly wage to $6.15 for large companies and $5.25 for businesses with annual gross revenues of $625,000 or less. Many larger employers in the state abide by the higher federal minimum wage, however, which calls for workers to be paid no less than $7.25 per hour.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness is expected to appear at a noon news conference today at City Hall to announce his support for the proposed minimum wage hike, but he did not return phone or email messages Sunday.
While no city council has yet voted to support the campaign, other mayors across the state have joined the call for a minimum wage no lower than $9.50 per hour. On Thursday, Hibbing Mayor Rick Cannata lent his support to the campaign. In so doing, he joined Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Falcon Heights Mayor Peter Lindstrom in advocating for a minimum wage bill that promises to generate debate when the Legislature convenes Feb. 25.
Not all members of the Duluth City Council plan to support the minimum wage resolution coming forward tonight.
“As a city council, we are not in a position to raise the minimum wage,” said 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle. “I understand people are trying to support this, but think it would make more sense for individual councilors to contact their legislators and the governor on this issue instead of making a big scene in council chambers.”
“This is beyond our control as a council. It’s no different than us trying to end the war,” he said.
Fosle also took umbrage at the notion of city resources being dedicated to such a resolution.
“Someone had to write up this resolution, and that takes staff time and tax dollars,” he said.
Gardner defended the resolution, saying: “It is the job of the city council not only to see that potholes are being filled but to support legislation that will directly benefit the city economically.”
She noted that an estimated 8,923 residents of Duluth would directly benefit from the proposed increase in Minnesota’s minimum wage and would see their annual cumulative buying power increased by about $12.6 million.
Other area cities would see similar benefits, said Sheeran, who said an estimated 500-600 Hermantown residents would together bring in about an additional $800,000 per year if the proposed new minimum wage is adopted. And about 900 workers in Cloquet would see their cumulative annual wages boosted by about $1.1 million.
“If someone is just getting by right now, and we put a couple extra bucks in their pockets, they’ll spend that money, and most of it will stay right in the local economy,” Sheeran predicted.
Gardner said that when the state of Washington recently increased its minimum wage, a number of businesses were quick to note the benefits.
But Fosle cautioned against a large hike.
“I have concerns with it jumping that dramatically. It could backfire and hurt a lot of small businesses,” he said.
Fosle also predicted such an increase would push up inflation.
“All kinds of products would go up in price, and that would be tough on elderly people with fixed income. It could crush them,” he said.
Minnesota Grocers Association President Jamie Pfuhl said her members would be hurt by an increase, too.
“The retail food industry operates on profit margins of around 1 percent,” Pfuhl said. “A significant minimum wage increase will increase costs for consumers, result in job loss for youth and create competitive disadvantages for Minnesota businesses.”
The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a conservative think tank, has projected that increasing the state’s minimum wage to $9 per hour would result in the loss of between 3,063 and 9,190 jobs. It also predicted that increasing the wage to $10 per hour would cost between 6,582 and 19,747 workers their jobs in the state.
Sheeran dismissed those claims, saying they are similar to dire predictions about the effects of wage increases dating back to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration.
“Each time opponents have talked about massive layoffs that just never materialized,” he said.
The Duluth City Council will take up the matter when it meets at 7 p.m. today.
Don Davis of the Forum News Service contributed to this report.