Duluth City Council favors increasing Minnesota's minimum wageDuluth became the first city in Minnesota to officially come out in favor of increasing the state’s minimum wage to at least $9.50 per hour Monday night.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Duluth became the first city in Minnesota to officially come out in favor of increasing the state’s minimum wage to at least $9.50 per hour Monday night.
During a news conference earlier in the day, Mayor Don Ness lent his support to a resolution that was taken up by the Duluth City Council later that evening.
“Across the nation, even as the economy starts to pick up, we see an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.” Ness said. “This is a step toward making work pay again.”
Ness joined the mayors of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hibbing and Falcon Heights in backing the minimum wage hike.
Similar resolutions to the one passed by the Duluth City Council are in the works in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well, but they have not yet been adopted.
“People who work full-time should not be living in poverty. They should be able to pay their bills and have enough to eat,” said 3rd District Councilor Sharla Gardner, one of the co-authors of the resolution. She referred to the increase in the minimum wage as “long overdue.”
Minnesota last boosted its minimum wage in 2005, setting the hourly floor at $6.15 for large companies and $5.25 for businesses with annual gross revenues of $625,000 or less. However, many larger employers in the state have adopted the higher federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
John Rathe, a Duluth resident, urged councilors to reject the resolution, suggesting it was not the City Council’s place to weigh in on an issue that was beyond its jurisdiction. He compared it to a prior resolution opposing the war in Iraq.
He also warned against the consequences of such a significant increase in the minimum wage.
“At a time when we’re still losing businesses… I’m afraid that if we increase the minimum wage like this, it’s only going to send Minnesota businesses into a spiral again,” Rathe said.
Councilor Jay Fosle expressed similar reservations, saying: “My concern is that this could backfire and cause more poverty.”
He also suggested the proposed wage hike could result in inflation that would squeeze elderly people living on fixed incomes.
Although Gardner said she recognizes the fears some people have that an increase in the minimum wage will hurt small businesses and others, she considers those concerns unfounded. She pointed to Washington state, where a recent cost-of-living adjustment brought the minimum wage to $9.32 per hour.
“If you look at what happened in Washington state, you’ll find that none of the fears people had about raising the minimum wage came to fruition,” Gardner said.
Instead of hurting the economy, the wage increase stimulated local spending in Washington, lifting businesses to new heights, Gardner said. She predicts Minnesota can expect the same, and noted that if the minimum wage increases to $9.50, the U.S. Census indicates about 8,900 people in Duluth would receive raises and would have about $12.6 million in additional wages to spend. Gardner also noted that people on Social Security do receive cost-of-living adjustments.
Ultimately, the resolution passed by an 8-1 vote with Fosle alone in his dissent.
Councilor Jennifer Julsrud, who co-authored the resolution with Gardner and Emily Larson, said she subsisted for several years on minimum wage jobs earlier in her life and recalls the hardships of having to cope with unexpected expenses such as car repairs or a bad tooth. She said many of the people working low-wage jobs feel disenfranchised, and Julsrud said she feels it’s important to stand up for them.
“I feel it’s my responsibility to give a voice to the people in our community who feel they don’t have one,” she said.
Joel Sipress, the newly appointed 2nd District councilor, said he was proud to cast his second vote on the council in support of an increase in the minimum wage. He suggested it was only appropriate for employers to step up and provide a living wage to working families, instead of pushing the responsibility off on others.
“It’s the taxpayer who is forced to subsidize these low-wage jobs right now through public assistance,” he said.