Cities’ sick leave, other employer mandates targeted by Minnesota GOP lawmakers

New paid sick leave mandates scheduled to take effect this year in St. Paul and Minneapolis face a potential new challenge: the state of Minnesota.

A House job growth committee heard lengthy testimony Thursday from dozens of business and labor advocates on either side of a bill that would strip Minnesota cities of the ability to impose citywide wage and benefit mandates in excess of state law. The bill passed the majority-Republican committee 13-9 along party lines.

The four-hour evening hearing packed in a sometimes-testy audience of workers and advocates associated with the faith-based anti-poverty group ISAIAH, the AFL-CIO, the CTUL fast food workers and janitorial union, TakeAction Minnesota and other progressive action groups. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and retail, grocery, construction, trucking and staffing associations were largely represented by lobbyists.

Advocates have pointed to the importance of uniformity in state labor law.

“There are 854 cities in the state of Minnesota,” said committee chair Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, the bill’s lead House sponsor. “It is unrealistic and unproductive to have 854 different labor standards.”

The DFLers on the committee called the bill an about-face for Republicans, who have supported local rule-making.

“With a flip of a moment, we are trying to take away the power of local government,” said state Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul. “This is really shameful. I can’t believe this is coming from your party — that you are trying to take away local control from communities.”

Speaking for the opposition, Rose Roach, executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said she spent months co-chairing an “earned sick and safe time” committee in St. Paul last year, which resulted in worker protections that were unanimously adopted by the St. Paul City Council. “And it now appears outside corporate interests are interested in doing an end-run around the will of the people,” she said.

Garofalo’s so-called “pre-emption” bill would block four types of potential local regulations related to minimum wage rules, mandatory paid leave, employee scheduling ordinances and minimum benefits or working conditions. It does not pre-empt city government salaries or contracts. 

Opponents said the legislation would eliminate important worker safeguards that the state has failed to provide. Several Minneapolis City Council members have advocated for a new citywide minimum wage that would exceed the state floor of $7.75 for small businesses and $9.50 for larger employers, though the conversation is less far along in St. Paul.

Last year, St. Paul and Minneapolis individually hammered out paid sick leave mandates that will apply to private employers throughout their respective cities. Both sets of rules are scheduled to take effect later this year and could be overturned by the proposed legislation.

“I have a 6-year-old son,” said McDonald’s restaurant worker Guillermo Lindsay, a member of CTUL, while addressing the committee. “You’re telling me if you take away my sick time, I won’t be able to take my son to the doctor.”

“I’m lucky to have access to paid sick time in my workplace, but in St. Paul there are 72,000 workers who don’t,” said Associate Pastor Javen Swanson of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul. 

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