Questions over how Minneapolis will phase-in $15 minimum wage

After two years of public outcry, a special Minneapolis City Council meeting marks a big moment in the final stretch of adopting a new minimum wage ordinance for the city’s workers.

Tuesday’s meeting marked the first formal discussion of draft minimum wage ordinance from city staff now that council members fully support raising that wage to $15 an hour. The final details that remain include how many employees define a small versus a large business, and how soon the phase-in process will begin.

While some council members would like to see the new minimum wage in place in the next four years, others instead focus on a phase in period that’s slower for small businesses.

“I need that extra support from the city to be able to pay my employees the way a big corporation can,” said Daniel Swenson-Klatt, owner of Butter Bakery Café.

McDonald’s employee Clara Parra Olivera said she feels the sooner the minimum wage changes, the better.

“We all have our struggles, but if we all work together we can get it done,” she said.

Councilwoman Lisa Bender urged the council to set a start date, saying she wants to hear what people have to say about the decision. 

“When I asked staff last year, they told me there were 437 licensed businesses in Uptown and Whittier,” she said. “So we have a robust small business community, and a lot of those small businesses are owned by my constituents who live maybe upstairs or maybe down the street from their business.”

Those who work for larger corporations, however, say they can’t afford to wait for a slower rollout.

“We can’t wait, we need it now. My family is struggling,” Olivera said. “There’s still not enough to save for college.”

A report by the State of Minnesota recently found that about 250,000 hourly workers earn $9.50 an hour or less.