A committee tasked with figuring out how St. Paul should implement a citywide minimum wage agreed on a $15 target, but after 14 weeks of study left some of the toughest questions unanswered.
The St. Paul Minimum Wage Study Committee, led by the nonpartisan Citizens League, is suggesting three options to achieve a $15 minimum wage within seven years. The committee’s 446-page report came to no consensus over how to include servers and other tipped workers, student workers at private colleges and employees in the healthcare industry.
The report is the sequel to one the Citizens League released in February. Mayor Melvin Carter has expressed support for a $15 minimum wage, and the City Council is expected to pass a wage ordinance by the end of the year.
St. Paul officials asked the study committee, which included residents, business owners and leaders, restaurant workers and union representatives, to focus on four questions: What the wage should be, whether exemptions should be made for certain workers, whether tips should be counted toward the minimum wage and how long the city should take to phase in the wage hike.
Because the committee was assigned just those four questions and had limited time to meet, there were some things they couldn’t delve into, said Angelica Klebsch, the Citizen League’s policy director.
One issue that city leaders will have to consider is how to apply the minimum wage to college students. St. Paul has five private, nonprofit colleges and universities that employ students through work study. Paying students a $15 hourly wage could cost more than $2 million per institution annually, according to the report. Institutions may have to raise tuition or reduce student work hours, the report said.
Of the three options presented by the committee, the one with the most support would phase in a $15 minimum wage, indexed to inflation, over five to seven years. Exemptions would include city-approved youth training and disability employment programs, but not tipped workers.
Organizations advocating for a $15 minimum wage in St. Paul, including unions, 15Now Minnesota and Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, applauded the report in a Sept. 4 letter to city leaders and staff.
“In light of the Citizens League study committee’s recommendations, it’s clearer than ever that the city should move forward with raising the minimum wage to $15 with no tip penalty as soon as possible,” the letter said. “The recommendations confirm that the policy that workers have championed for more than a year is right for St. Paul.”
Not everyone is on board. The report shows committee members disagreed on many details for how to implement a minimum wage, and several raised concerns related to their own work.
A restaurant owner and a server said they support a lower minimum wage for tipped workers. A local business leader said micro businesses should get more time to start paying their employees $15 an hour. The owner of a home healthcare business asked that employers that receive Medicaid reimbursements also get more time to phase in the higher wage.
Committee members did agree that, however the ordinance turns out, the city will have to educate employers and workers about their rights and responsibilities — and crack down on violations.
The City Council will hear a presentation on the Citizens League report Sept. 12, and public input sessions are scheduled for Sept. 15 and 20.
Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509