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Mayors plug minimum wage increase proposal

Don Davis

Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Hibbing Mayor Rick Cannata says he knows what it is like to financially struggle while raising a family.

The mayor told Minnesota Capitol reporters Thursday that his experience raising three children when his wife earned minimum wage provided him with insight into why the state needs to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and allow it to automatically increase to match inflation.

Today’s parents earning minimum wage “are hurting even more” than his family did a few years ago, Cannata said.

On the Iron Range, it may be even more important to raise wages, he said. “You go from the mines (that pay well) to minimum wage jobs.”

Cannata said he thinks a higher minimum wage would help “mom and pop” stores with few employees. “This will bring more money.”

While many businesses and chambers of commerce around the state strongly oppose a higher minimum wage, Cannata said, “I haven’t heard a lot about it.”

Cannata joined Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Falcon Heights Mayor Peter Lindstrom in telling reporters they and many of their colleagues support the higher wage expected to be debated in the Legislature, which convenes Feb. 25.

The main proposal would raise the large-employer wage to $9.50 an hour, up from the current $6.15. The current small-business minimum is $5.25.

Most employers now fall under the federal minimum wage of $7.25 for large firms, but a higher Minnesota wage would apply to them. Democrats in Washington are pushing to increase the federal wage.

Minnesota’s Raise the Wage Coalition claims 357,000 Minnesota would benefit if the wage were raised. While the state’s largest cities would benefit most, the coalition says, more than 4,000 Moorhead workers would receive raises, as would nearly 9,000 in Duluth. The coalition says those increases would boost workers’ purchasing power $6 million in Moorhead and $12 million in Duluth.

But Minnesota Grocers Association President Jamie Pfuhl said her members would be hurt by an increase.

“The retail food industry operates on profit margins of around 1 percent,” Pfuhl said. “A significant minimum wage increase will increase costs for consumers, result in job loss for youth and create competitive disadvantages for Minnesota businesses.”

Mayors speaking Thursday did not see it the same way as Pfuhl.

Hodges said that while Minneapolis has recovered well from the country’s recession, “the recovery has been uneven.” Some Minnesotans have not fared as well, she said.

“This is how we help Minnesota become a better state,” she said.

The Minnesota House last year approved a $9.50 wage, but senators backed a far smaller increase.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.