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Raising minimum wage expected to be on legislative agenda

WILLMAR — When the Minnesota legislature adjourned this spring, there was a $1.75-an-hour minimum wage gap left behind that lawmakers are expected to bridge when they reconvene in February.

A financial difference of less than two dollars may not seem like much, but when it comes to setting a new state hourly minimum wage, every penny is expected to be haggled over as lawmakers debate whether the House-approved $9.50/hour rate or the Senate’s $7.75/hour wage is better for the state.

“There will be some kind of conclusion to it,” said Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City.

“I’m guessing there will be some kind of negotiation between the House and Senate position and that the actual minimum wage will be somewhere in between there,” said Koenen.

Representatives from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees say they want legislators to pick the House bill.

During a recent tour through the area, Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Minnesota Council 5, said increasing the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour would give a raise to 360,000 Minnesota workers and pump an additional $470 million into the state’s economy each year.

Seide said increasing the pay of low-wage workers will benefit the economy more than giving tax breaks to wealthy Minnesotans because minimum-wage workers typically spend their money on goods and services that help keep businesses alive.

Raising the minimum wage is not a “job killer,” said Jennifer Munt, public relations officer for AFSCME Council 5.

She said businesses will benefit because customers will have more money to spend on food and other consumer goods. She said 57 percent of the workers who’d benefit from the minimum wage increase are women.

Reducing poverty for women, she said, will help children be better fed and better prepared for school.

Munt said polls taken by AFSCME at the Minnesota State Fair this year shows overwhelming public support for raising the wage to $9.50 an hour.

Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees there is support for boosting the state’s minimum wage, which is currently below the federal level.

“I don’t believe anyone is against raising it,” said Warner. “The issue is how much you’re raising it.”

Warner said the Chamber would support raising the state current wage of $6.15/hour to meet the federal rate of $7.25.

“If it’s fair and balanced and doesn’t supersede the federal law, we’d be good,” said Warner.

Seide said AFSCME hopes the Senate will vote to approve the House’s bill of setting the wage at $9.50.

Koenen said that’s not likely to happen.

“I suspect the Senate won’t just adopt the house position,” said Koenen, who wouldn’t say specifically what rate he’d vote for.

He said there are too many unknown “moving pieces” in the bills that could give different rates for different business sectors.

He said questions about overtime hours for farm workers, the wage rate for teens and what financial factors will be used to classify large and small businesses will need to be resolved between the two bills, as well as the final dollar amount.

“It’s a lot more than just the minimum wage that’s being talked about in that bill,” said Koenen.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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