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Coalition launches campaign for higher minimum wage

Forum News Service

DULUTH -- A coalition of Minnesota labor, religious, nonprofit and public service groups on Tuesday began rallying public support to raise the state’s minimum wage by more than $3 an hour over the next two years.

Most employers in the state currently adopt the federal standard of $7.25 an hour for larger companies, although many workers who work for smaller companies can earn $6.15 per hour.

The Raise the Wage! coalition wants to see the state minimum wage gradually raised to $9.50 an hour by 2015, saying it would help lift lower-wage workers out of poverty and reduce the need for taxpayer-funded social services.

They also say it would be a $427 million annual boost to Minnesota’s economy, putting more money in the hands of consumer.

“It’s good for Minnesota communities. It’s good for workers,’’ said Joe Sheeran, communications director for Minnesota 2020, one member of the coalition. “For too long, the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, and that’s hurting Minnesota’s economy.”

Supporters also want an automatic escalator to raise the minimum wage with the rate of inflation. Sheeran noted that, had the minimum wage been adjusted for inflation, it would be more than $10 at this point.

The groups estimate that some 360,000 Minnesota workers currently earn the minimum wage. That includes retail workers and health-care workers.

"Someone who works a 40-hour week shouldn’t make below the poverty line,’’ said Stacy Spexet, president of Steelworkers Local 9460 in Duluth, which represents nursing home and health-care workers.

Tuesday’s effort included a rally at the Minnesota State Fair and media events in Duluth and Mankato.

Opponents, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, say raising the minimum wage will force employers to cut jobs or decrease workers’ hours. That’s especially true of jobs for younger, entry-level workers, who would see fewer job opportunities, the Chamber has said.

Others say increasing the wage will actually hurt the state economy by forcing companies to raise prices, hurting consumers’ buying power.

The Minnesota House passed legislation this year raising the minimum wage to $9.50 and adopting federal standards for overtime, reducing hours worked before overtime kicks in to 40 hours from the state’s current 48-hour rule for workers not covered by labor contracts. The Senate passed a more conservative bill, raising the minimum wage to $7.75. But no final version was ever acted on.

Supporters hope to build public support to demand that lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton act in the 2014 session.

Forum News Service

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