St. Paul advances $15 an hour minimum wage ordinance

The city of St. Paul took its first official steps toward raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but there's still a lot to work out for the employees who would be directly impacted.

After more than a year of research, studies and public outreach, the ordinance had its first reading in St. Paul Council Chambers today.

There was very little discussion by councilors, but plenty of opinions by people showing up at City Hall today.

“We committed to making sure no one in the city who works full time is stuck raising their children in poverty,” said St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.

Joining Carter in an early celebration of Wednesday’s first reading of the $15 an hour minimum wage ordinance was server Erin Lynch.

Among the multitude of reasons people here support the increase, Lynch hopes it will help reduce sexual harassment.

“It’s a problem I deal with frequently. Harassment happens whenever there is a power deferential and customers have the power when they waive the prospect of a tip over your head, which means you’ll be able to pay your rent, or your student loans or health insurance,” Lynch said.

“It’s absolutely a society problem and has nothing to do with our type of work,” she added.

Standing by the gathering of supporters, other restaurant workers opposing the proposed ordinance, which currently includes no adjustments for tipped workers.

Jennifer Schellenberg, a bartender, is one of them.

“We would easily lose half of our income,” Schellenberg said. “You are talking about an absolute career killer.

As it's written today, the ordinance would raise the minimum wage for the capital city to $15 an hour within five years for large businesses and seven years for small businesses.

One councilor brought up easing micro businesses into the wage changes at an even slower rate.

Currently the minimum wage in St. Paul starts at just over $9 an hour.

From janitors to fast food workers, those showing up at St. Paul City Hall say they can’t afford to wait much longer.

This was the first of four readings, plus there will be public hearing on the proposed ordinance. Mayor Carter hopes to pass the ordinance by the end of the year.