Minnesota Chamber of Commerce takes Minneapolis’ $15 minimum wage to court

City officials and business leaders made arguments in Hennepin County District Court on Dec. 1, with a verdict still to come.

Madeline Deninger

Minneapolis officials and business leaders have brought their clash over a $15 minimum wage to a Hennepin County judge. 

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is suing the city of Minneapolis over its minimum wage ordinance, saying the policy violates state law. The ordinance, passed by the Minneapolis City Council in June, is set to go into effect Jan. 1 for businesses with over 100 employees, and July 1 for businesses with fewer than 100 employees. The citywide wage will increase incrementally each year until it reaches $15 per hour.

“When laws artificially require employers to pay, in this case up to $15 an hour, employers are going to buy less labor,” said Cam Winton, director of energy and labor-management policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. “On the legal front, different states handle things in different ways. But in Minnesota, on our law books, there is one minimum wage.”

The chamber filed the lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court on Nov. 10. Arguments from both the chamber and the city were heard in court on Dec. 1, with a decision still to be announced.

Winton said the ordinance is problematic at both a policy and legal level. He said a $15 minimum wage will make the market less competitive for low-wage workers.

The wage ordinance states that it shouldn’t be interpreted or applied to conflict with federal or state law. The ordinance maintains that the city “has broad authority through its police powers to enact regulation to further the public health, safety and general welfare.”

Tyler Vasseur, an officer of University of Minnesota Socialist Students and member of Socialist Alternative, said he thinks businesses are suing the city over the wage ordinance to maximize profits.

“They already make insane amounts of money, meanwhile the lowest wage workers are barely getting by. So they see this as a threat to their profits,” he said.

Local business owners have mixed feelings on whether the ordinance should go into effect. 

Pete Jacobson, co-owner of Land’s End Pasty Company in Dinkytown, said he believes the ordinance will burden small businesses and startups. 

“When a lot of businesses first start up, they don’t make any money at all,” Jacobson said. “A $15 minimum wage makes things even more difficult.”   

David Hathaway, owner of Mesa Pizza, said though the ordinance could pose a challenge, it’s important for low-wage workers.

“It’s tough for low-wage workers to be able to pay for bills, so I support it,” Hathaway said. “As a business owner you always worry about expenses, but sometimes the worth of something outweighs the worry.” 

If the ordinance is upheld in court, the chamber will appeal, Winton said.  

Mayor-elect and current Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey, who was one of the authors of the ordinance, said a potential appeal doesn’t concern him.

“We as the city will staunchly defend our minimum wage ordinance,” Frey said. “We have faith in our attorneys and our judicial system to do the right thing.” 

Minnesota’s state minimum wage will climb to $9.65 per hour for large employers, and $7.87 for small businesses on Jan. 1.