We already knew that the general concept of a minimum wage increase was popular with Minnesota, with 70 percent saying they support an increase without mentioning a number. But new polling shows that a substantive increase – one that would give Minnesota one of the country’s highest minimum wages – also has a majority behind it.
Public Policy Polling, which independent studies have shown to be one of the most accurate pollsters in the country, asked Minnesotans about minimum wage along with a battery of other issues. The question “Would you support or oppose raising the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour?” received 54 percent supporting, 37 percent opposing, and 10 percent undecided.
To put that in perspective, that large minimum wage increase was more popular with those surveyed than Gov. Dayton (49 percent approval), DFL legislators (36 percent), Republican legislators (23 percent), and using money from the cigarette tax to pay for the new Vikings stadium (35 percent).
In fact, the only question that unified Minnesotans more than raising the minimum wage was allowing liquor sales on Sunday (62 percent).
24 percent of those identifying as “very conservative.”
59 percent of women.
45 percent of independents.
29 percent of Republicans.
61 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds and 51 percent of those older than 65.
The Minnesota House passed a bill earlier this month raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015 and indexing it to inflation, but the bill did not receive a full vote in the Senate before the end of session. The Senate passed its own version, which raised the wage to a meager $7.75 and ignored the question of inflation.
These numbers show what many Working America members already know: that fighting to put more money in the pockets of workers has support across the ideological and partisan spectrum, and that pursuing policies that raise wages can only help, not hurt, an elected official’s standing with the public.
The issue of raising the minimum wage can next be brought up in Minnesota in February 2014.
The 2013 legislative session in Minnesota will certainly go down in history, as that state became the first in the Midwest to approve marriage equality through the legislature.
However, relief for over 300,000 minimum wage workers in Minnesota was kicked to the curb, as the session ended Monday at midnight with no action on HF 92, the bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $9.50 and tied it to inflation.
Legislators arrived at an impasse after the Senate passed its own minimum wage bill, which raised the wage to only $0.50 above the federal minimum and had no ties to inflation – meaning years upon years could pass without another increase.
Outside the capital, support for a minimum wage increase is broad. A recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed nearly 70 percent of Minnesotans support an increase in the state minimum wage, with 41 percent supporting the House’s $9.50 per hour increase.
Republicans were uniform in their opposition the increase in both houses. Unfortunately, too many DFL senators also fell prey to the influence of restaurant industry lobbyists and other special interests like ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce. Rumors suggest that the minimum wage increase may have been used as a bargaining chit in negotiations on other issues.
“We’re talking about a pay increase for 350,000 Minnesota workers that would help the economy and make a big difference in their lives,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), the sponsor of HF 92 in the House, “And if the people who say they’re Democrats aren’t willing to do that then I question whether they’re being honest about their own values.”
“Hard work should pay for all Minnesotans and a minimum wage increase would ensure that low-wage workers are part of Minnesota’s economic recovery,” said MN AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson, “We’re not going to give up on them.”
Working America, along with the Minnesota AFL-CIO and other allies, will continue to advocate for a minimum wage increase over the summer and into the 2014 legislative session. In the meantime, we can recognize some of the 2013 session’s other accomplishments including: the extension of unemployment benefits for locked out workers, improvements to workers’ compensation, an infrastructure bonding bill, the passage of an MN “Dream Act,” and an incredible investment in education that includes universal all-day kindergarten.
HR 1406, the hilariously named, “Working Families Flexibility Act,” would replace time-and-a-half pay for hours worked past 40 hours with a “comp time” system that favors the employer. As the video above explains, “comp time” sounds like you’re getting time off to spend as you see fit, but in fact allows your boss to decide when you take your days off – and when you don’t.
If your boss decides that your request for days off “unduly disrupts the operations of the employer” they have the right to reject it. If your boss decides that your request was not made “within a reasonable period,” you can’t take your vacation.
So instead of getting paid extra for working more than 40 hours a week, as we’ve done for decades, you get some days off that your employer has complete control over. And yes, you can still take the option of overtime pay, but what’s to stop your boss from treating you differently because of it? (Nothing.)
To review: The Working Families Flexibility Act provides less flexibility to working families. Classic bill naming!
What’s sickening about this vote in the House is that three Democrats voted for the bill along with all but 8 Republicans: Tim Matheson of Utah, Henry Cuellar of Texas, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota. The House Republican caucus has continuously demonstrated their lack of concern with American workers (33 votes to repeal Obamacare, anyone?) and it’s a shame that these three so-called “representatives” decided to cross the aisle on this harmful, misguided bill.
But in general, we should keep this vote in mind next time those 223 members of Congress come back around asking to get “rehired” in November 2014. After all, Congress operates less than half of the year, and yet they earn an exorbitant salary for their troubles – paid by you, the taxpayer.
They might think that our bosses should completely control how we spend our time. Don’t forget, though: we are their bosses. And if they don’t change their attitude and their work ethic, a pink slip might be in order.
The bill raises the minimum wage in three steps, after which the minimum wage would be indexed to inflation. “By creating an inflationary adjustment, we’re actually giving business a much more predictable, smooth path,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), the bill’s sponsor.
The precarious situation faced by Minnesota low-wage workers got a big spotlight earlier this month when Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) took the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge, during which he lived on a budget of $7.50 an hour. “I want to let all my colleagues know that it’s darn near impossible to live on these wages,” Rep. Metsa said after his one-week experience, “I encourage them to vote for Representative Winkler’s bill.”
While the increase to $9.50 will go to a vote in the House, the Senate is the chamber that will need the most work. In its current form, the Senate bill only increases the minimum wage $0.25 to $7.50.
With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour and an increase facing stiff opposition from congressional Republicans, coalitions of union, community, faith and other groups are mobilizing to win increases in state and local minimum wage levels. Here’s a look at some recent wins and campaigns where AFL-CIO state federations and central labor councils are playing big roles.
Raising the minimum wage will make a real difference in the lives of workers, many of whom are adults working full-time, and many of whom have families to support.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, raising New York’s minimum wage to $9.00 per hour will benefit more than 1.5 million New York workers—more than one in five workers in New York. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that increasing New York’s minimum wage to $9.00 per hour will generate more than $1.1 billion in new economic activity, supporting the creation of 10,200 new full-time jobs as businesses expand to meet increased consumer demand.
San Jose, Calif., recently increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour after a campaign that united the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and San Jose Downtown Association in winning a ballot measure to boost the city’s minimum wage.
Meanwhile in Hawaii, the state House passed legislation to raise the Aloha State’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2017 in four steps. The state Senate is expected to vote on the bill next month.
In Maine last week, the state House also voted to boost the state’s minimum wage, from the current $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour by 2016 in in three steps. The bill also protects the wage from losing its value inflation by indexing it to inflation. The bill awaits state Senate action.
A bill to increase the Minnesota minimum wage to $10.55 an hour over three years is making it way through the House. It already has been approved by three committees and further action is expected later in the spring. It also is indexed against inflation. The bill is a key part of the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Agenda for Dignity and Middle Class Fairness.
Looking down the road, New Jersey voters will decide this fall on a ballot measure to raise the Garden State’s minimum wage to $8.25 an hour and index it against inflation. The New Jersey State AFL-CIO plans a major effort around the measure. In January, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a minimum wage bill.
There are also campaigns or legislation under way to increase the minimum wage in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico and Rhode Island.
The following is a guest post from Nicole Hilgendorf, a server in Minneapolis.
I recently asked a colleague what receiving the $7.25 minimum wage as a tipped employee meant to her, and she, without hesitation, responded, “It makes me feel like I am worth something.”
My colleague was not only referring to a sense of monetary worth, but also worth of one’s esteem. Undeniably, an investment in overall human capital drives the American economy, yet the federal minimum wage for tipped employees has remained at $2.13 an hour since 1991. At the same time, the restaurant industry continues to flourish. Minnesota bucks this trend by paying all workers at least $7.25, which is not enough but it is much more than tipped workers get in other parts of the country.
Some politicians want to pass a “tip penalty” or “tip credit,” which would allow employers to pay tipped workers like me much less – between $2.13 and $7.25 an hour.
I have been a server on and off for the past eight years. My serving career began while I attending college in Wisconsin. I received $2.33 an hour plus tips. I never received a paycheck, as my hourly wages covered state and federal taxes. I could not create monthly budget because my monthly income was inconsistent at best. At the end of each month, if I did not earn enough in tip income to cover my bills and rent, I had to choose between picking up additional shifts and missing class or paying bills late, only to incur late penalties.
After I moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, the first job I was offered was a serving position. I was initially unaware that tipped employees received the actual minimum wage in Minnesota. I assumed throughout the nation, servers were only earning an hourly wage of slightly over two dollars. After receiving an actual paycheck, I felt like a valued employee and worker. More importantly, I realized I lived in a state that values its tipped employees as well.
Because tipping is culturally enforced, it is subjective and therefore not guaranteed. Relying solely on tip money for income is impossible, given that business dictates how much a tipped employee earns in their shift. I am unaware of a single tipped employee that has not at least once in their career left work without receiving any tips.
Furthermore, a 40-hour work week is not typical for tipped employees. A lunch or dinner shift usually last fives hours. Many tipped employees work two jobs (myself included) to make up for lack of work hours.
Tipped employees rarely receive benefits such as health care, paid time off, or a 401(k). They simply cannot afford to get sick – or rather, do not get proper health care when sick. For a tipped employee, any missed work is missed income, and any missed income makes the out of pocket health care costs even more unbearable. Subjecting tipped employees in Minnesota to a “tip penalty” or “tip credit” would dissuade many tipped employees from getting proper care when ill.
I would like to thank Rep. Jason Metsa for taking on the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge. Representative: I know this challenge has deepened your understanding of the realities of a low-wage budget, and made you aware that Minnesota workers every day are sacrificing essentials just to get by.
The intended purpose of a minimum wage is allow any worker to afford basic living standards, but today’s minimum wage only represents the lowest hourly wage in which an employer can legally pay employees. Minimum wage is not a living wage. I hope the state of Minnesota realizes the necessity to fairly compensate all workers – our economy and livelihood depend on it.
On his last day, Rep. Metsa’s challenge was to do something he usually took for granted: go home at the end of the week.
Metsa hails from the Iron Range, specifically Virginia, MN, and it’s about a three hour drive from the capital. On the budget he had set out at the beginning of the week, he had $268 a month for transportation. “Most people would have a car payment, but luckily I don’t, because my car is a ’99,” he told us.
He does have an insurance payment of $138 a month, which leaves him $32 a month for gas and maintenance; not enough even to get around on the metro during the work week and also get him home.
And then there’s maintenance. “I need an oil change, but there’s no way to do that on this budget,” Metsa commented. “Just before I started the Challenge, I put $1,800 into the car – on minimum wage I’d have to take out a payday loan to cover that. And that’s not ideal for a low-wage worker, with the high interest.”
It was sobering for Metsa that on a minimum wage budget, he’d literally have to take out a loan in order to make it home. “This budget has no room for mistakes, no room for an emergency, and it’s almost an extra job to make sure I’m spending each penny wisely,” he said.
“If I really was on minimum wage, I probably wouldn’t have a car,” Metsa continued, “I’d probably use the extra money to secure housing. Without housing, considering any other part of this budget is impossible.”
So without a car, Metsa would have to work either walking distance from his home or somewhere that was metro or bus accessible. This is feasible in St. Paul near his current job at the Minnesota House, but impossible in Virginia and other parts of the Iron Range (and much of the country) where adequate, affordable, public transit is nonexistent.
The first major lesson from that conversation was that our challenge actually skipped a step: Getting a 40-hour work week is its own challenge.
All the workers present reported that getting a full week of shifts isn’t possible with just one job. “That’s just not the reality at all,” said Avita Samuels a retail worker and student, when asked about a 40-hour work week. “This week I’ll be working 36 hours, but next week I’m scheduled for 8. And whatever I’m scheduled for, I usually work less because it’s too slow to keep me out on the floor.”
Rob Schiff, a low-wage worker and father of four, agreed, “Some weeks you get 48, 50-something hours, some weeks you get 24 hours.”
“Most of the time it’s 24 hours a week that I work,” added Janiece Watts, who also works retail, “that used to be balanced with school, but now it’s balanced with trying to find another job.”
Rep. Metsa asked about the experience of working two jobs, or looking for a second job while keeping the first. Samuels piped up:
“Getting your employer to work with the other employer…they almost refuse. I’ve seen jobs that schedule to spite the other job’s schedule, because they want you when they need you. Their concerns are business needs, not what you need to do to get by.”
Some of the most striking responses came from Schiff, who is working to support four kids on low wages.
“I have four kids between the ages of six months and 12 years old…and the simple things, like, yeah I want to buy health care for them, things like that, but many times you’re in a situation where you got to pay a bill, and you think “I don’t have the money, because the baby needs diapers.” So you have to figure out what to do.
Recently in this process I had my phone shut off because I had to make that decision a couple times.
Minimum wage…I mean when you have four kids, constantly, you have to pick and choose. There are times when your kids have to go without because you’ve got to pay rent. It’s a struggle.”
The workers were enthusiastic when Rep. Metsa talked about HF 92, the bill moving in the Minnesota House that would raise the minimum wage to $9.95 an hour and index to inflation. The Senate version only raises the minimum wage to $7.75 and includes no indexing.
Rep. Metsa talked about how the previous day, they had calculated his housing budget on the current wage and then with the proposed increase. “When we had that increase it meant an extra $140 for rent alone and the grocery budget went up by $2 a day,” said Metsa, “You look at those little things and start to think ‘man, that $2 adds up.’”
At least one Republican lawmaker has called our Minimum Wage Challenge a “gimmick,” but Metsa says his experiences have proven how far even $2-an-hour increase would go. “I hope the folks at the Capital, whether they think it’s a political ploy or not, at least have the opportunity to hear your story and get a real picture of what people are working on,” he said, “I don’t think it’s enough.”
Overall, our conversation showed that the stereotypes of low-wage workers being lazy or unambitious don’t hold sway in reality. “I take pride in my job. I want to do the best I can,” Samuels told Rep. Metsa. “I don’t want to have to ask for a higher minimum wage, but I have to.”
This week, Minnesota Rep. Jason Metsa is taking the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge – living on the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. He’ll report his experience back to the Minnesota legislature, where they are considering a bill to raise the minimum wage to $9.95.
On Wednesday, Rep. Metsa’s challenge was to find a place to live. Why a challenge? His budget that he set out on Monday allowed for only $359 a month for housing.
Metsa researched apartments both in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area (close to work) as well as up north in Virginia, MN (where he is from).
What he found was that it is very time consuming and almost impossible to find a place for that amount.
First off, there were not many listings available. Listings that did fall in Metsa’s budget didn’t have phone numbers available, so he had to inquire mostly through email. Many low-wage workers can’t afford an Internet connection at home or don’t own a personal computer. If Metsa was really living on minimum wage, he might have had to do this research at a local library, if he was in an area where there was one. And of course, there’s the issue of time and transportation.
Metsa did find the option to be a roommate for $323 in a house in Minneapolis, one of the few metropolitan locations in his price range. When he looked in Virginia, MN his home town he found an apartment listing for $100 a month. He called to follow up, and learned that if he wasn’t on housing assistance the one bedroom apartment was $585 a month with a $250 deposit for the utilities. Most of the utilities were included except electric, and the apartment was heated on electric heat. And if you’ve ever been to Virginia, MN, you know that heating bills run high.
As a test, we recalculated Metsa’s housing budget if the legislature successfully passed the minimum wage increase to $9.95. The new housing budget was $490: this gave us a dozen more options with legitimate phone numbers to call, actual property managers to speak to, pictures of the apartments, and better locations.
Rep. Metsa’s initial reaction was how time consuming this was. Because there were so few options, 45 minutes of research and following up could get him nowhere. At a public library the limit at a computer is 30 minutes – sometimes up to an hour – which meant that a round trip to the library to find housing could all be for naught.
“If I was really on minimum wage, I’d have to rely mostly on friends and family on what house they knew about or even canvass the neighborhood looking for ‘For Rent’ signs and hope some of them were in your price range,” Metsa said. “It’s clear that you wouldn’t be able to find housing without assistance of some sort with $359 a month.”
“What I’m really learning from this challenge is that on minimum wage, it’s a constant juggle of what I don’t pay this month,” Metsa continued. This lines up with a lot of the comments we hear from Working America members who work low-wage jobs.
Thursday, Rep. Metsa will meet with small business owners and low-wage workers to talk about their experiences. Follow along on Twitter by using the hashtag #mnwage.
Metsa told us he was hungry – he had missed breakfast again this morning. On Monday, he had purchased a cup of coffee and a few items at a $5 buffet, so with that $7 out, he had about $30 left for this shopping trip.
Under those restrictions, he bought bread, peanut butter, spaghetti and a can of sauces, packaged salami, eggs, frozen orange juice. Rep. Metsa had to put a few items back at check-out (one loaf of bread and a can of beef ravioli) because he went over the 30 dollars.
While he was shopping, Metsa constantly stopped to add up the total cost of the food to make sure he could afford the essentials like milk and eggs, something he wasn’t used to doing. “In my regular diet, I enjoy more fruits and vegetables,” he told us, but he needed to make sure he had some income left for the rest of the week’s expenses. Luckily, there was a head of lettuce and some potatoes that were on sale for $0.38. Otherwise, his haul was heavy on salt and fat, and low on nutrition.
Metsa mentioned how he had gotten to the store and how it would fit into his transportation budgets. In this case he had a friend (our staffer) to pick him up to take him to the store, so he didn’t have to take the bus. In most areas, the bus isn’t even an option, so gas and insurance need to be considered.
“It would be even more challenging if I had to do this for a month – or had a family,” Metsa reflected, “If I had a family I might have to make hard choice, like giving up my car that requires insurance so I could have a larger food budget for my kids.”