A Minnesota State Senate omnibus bill threatens to undo Duluth’s long-debated ordinance requiring local employers to provide their workers with access to paid time off.

The Duluth City Council passed an ordinance in May 2018, mandating that local employers offer workers paid time off to deal with an illness or a family emergency, such as a case of domestic abuse.

But language in a Senate omnibus bill would overturn that local ordinance before it ever goes into effect, as it’s slated to Jan. 1, 2020.

The chairman of the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee, Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, proposed the language, which would stop similar policies from taking effect in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well. The omnibus bill likewise would block the two cities from setting higher minimum wage requirements than the established state rate.

Pratt did not respond to phone and email messages from the News Tribune Monday, but he told MinnPost: “This is about having uniform labor standards across the state.”

If that’s the goal, 1st District Duluth City Councilor Joel Sipress suggested there are better ways to achieve it.

“I think we all agree that having some uniformity is preferable. But we should be getting uniformity by addressing the needs of working people and not by undermining local government,” he said.

Sipress called on state legislators to be part of the solution, saying: “The Republicans in the state Senate say we need pre-emption because we don’t want a patchwork of different local policies. Well, if they’re really concerned about a patchwork of different local policies, why aren’t they working with the governor and working with the DFL House to get us a good statewide earned sick and safe time policy. If that really was their concern, that’s what they would be doing.”

But David Ross, president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, said Duluth’s earned sick and safe time ordinance does a disservice to the local business community.

“Local elected officials across Minnesota continue to propose mandates to control employers’ relationships with their employees. These unfunded mandates put pressure on our local employers, especially small employers,” he said.

District 7A Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth, said she sincerely doubts her colleagues in the Democrat-controlled House would go along with the Senate effort to pre-empt the authority of local units of government to establish labor standards. Even if they did, she predicted Gov.

Tim Walz would be hard pressed to sign any such measure into law.

As for her own thoughts, Schultz said: “I am opposed to local pre-emption. I believe local units of government know what’s best for their community.”

However, Ross suggested the state is right to step in, noting: “Minnesota has 853 cities and 87 counties. While most city and county elected officials do not appear to be interested in passing local, individual mandates; the majority of our Duluth city councilors have exhibited a persistent desire to do so. The Duluth Area Chamber contends that employers must have the flexibility to provide wages, benefits and schedules that are appropriate for their workplace and responsive to industry needs. Local governments have the right to impose their own requirements on their own public sector workplaces and local government employees. This is their self-imposed choice. Yet, enacting employee wage, benefit or scheduling mandates on private employers should be outside of the Duluth City Council’s authority.

“Accordingly, we support explicit statewide pre-emption of local government labor mandates,” Ross said.

Sipress said elected local officials have stepped up in the absence of leadership at the state level.

“When the state fails to act, it’s the obligation of local government to act. And I wish the Republicans in the state Senate were focusing their energies on helping us get a statewide earned sick and safe time guarantee for all workers in Minnesota, rather than undermining the efforts of local government to address the issues that they are ignoring,” he said.

Sipress suggested local units of government often are better positioned to tackle problem issues in this day and age.

“I think the problem is that our state government and our federal government right now are so strangled by big corporate money that they’re not doing their job. They’re not addressing the needs of working people. They’re not addressing the needs of public health,” he said.

Sipress said local units of government are less beholden to large corporate interests, and “It has fallen to local governments to do the work that our state and our federal government should be doing and aren’t doing because of the influence of big corporate money.”