Minnesota Supreme Court shuts down minimum wage vote, but U effect may be negligible

The University of Minnesota is governed by state laws not city ordinances, in regards to wages.

Juniors Patrick Griffin and Olivia Mason patrol the galleries on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016 at the Weisman Art Museum on East Bank. Griffin earns minimum wage at his job, which is $9.50 after the last statewide increase in August.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Juniors Patrick Griffin and Olivia Mason patrol the galleries on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016 at the Weisman Art Museum on East Bank. Griffin earns minimum wage at his job, which is $9.50 after the last statewide increase in August.

by Ryan Faircloth

University of Minnesota Junior Patrick Griffin thinks a higher minimum wage would harm, not help, students.

Griffin — who works as a gallery guard at Weisman Art Museum — said he believes raising Minneapolis’ wage to $15 an hour could likely result in fewer jobs for students and cuts in hours.

“If I’m not one of the best of the best of the best, I’d probably get fired because it’s unsustainable to have such a high minimum wage,” he said.

After hearing arguments from both the city and petitioners last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied a proposed $15 minimum wage charter amendment from reaching the November ballot.

The decision comes after a legal back-and-forth between city officials and residents backing the petition.

Ginger Jentzen, executive director for 15Now Minnesota, said the court’s ruling was disappointing.

“Clearly it’s a setback to getting on the ballot, but I think that the main reflection at this moment is that low-wage workers took on City Hall, and now there’s a real mandate to move forward on $15 an hour,” she said.

Jentzen said the Minneapolis City Council still has a chance to show they support a higher minimum wage by passing the proposal as an ordinance.

“City Council can no longer hide behind procedural arguments to defend big business, and the main conclusion out of the Supreme Court’s decision is that City Council has the power to pass 15 [dollar minimum wage] as an ordinance.”

Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey said he supports a citywide minimum wage increase but wants to do it through an ordinance rather than a charter amendment because legislation via referendum can’t be changed.

“With legislation via referendum, you have to set the language perhaps eight months in advance,” he said.

And not being able to change the language, Frey said, would stop the council from making changes after the language is set.

“Inevitably, there are changes that need to be made, and you just can’t do it via referendum,” he said. “It’s a blunt measure as opposed to using a scalpel.”

But Thomas Holmes, an economics professor at the University, said a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour would hurt those it’s designed to help.

Holmes said low-wage industries — such as fast-food and retail — would hire fewer workers, cut employee hours and implement more automated checkouts to accommodate for a higher wage requirement.

He said the higher wage could have a negative effect on customers, causing longer lines due to businesses not being able to afford as many employees.

In addition to the negative impact on low-wage workers, Holmes said the wage increase could hinder students’ chances of finding jobs, causing them to go back home for work.

Nevertheless, some University students do believe a higher minimum wage would be beneficial.

University Junior Michaela Eggers said she thinks her job’s hours would stay the same with a wage increase.

A student worker at Bierman Field Athletic Building, Eggers said an increase to the city’s minimum wage would make, extra costs, such as groceries, more affordable.

“It would just help me offset some of the costs from … my textbooks and stuff,” she said.

In an emailed statement, the University said its student workers would not be covered by a Minneapolis citywide wage increase.

Due to Board of Regents policy, the University would follow state wage guidelines instead of city ones.

As for what’s next, Jentzen said supporters will continue to build on the movement’s momentum via community outreach and organizing.

“We’re still going to be out tabling in communities, talking to folks on their doorsteps and getting out and talking to workers in their workplaces,” she said.

Jentzen said keeping the movement’s presence up will help put pressure on City Council members to act.

“History has shown that it’s large movements of workers organizing in their own collective interests that has resulted in major social change,” she said.