$15 minimum wage gains momentum as Minneapolis sits on legal sidelines

The campaign to drive small businesses and other employers out of Minneapolis by implementing a $15 an hour minimum wage rolls on. Serious doubts exist over the legality of a Minnesota city unilaterally imposing a separate minimum wage.

It’s of critical importance to businesses, non-profits and voters grappling with the potential fallout of a higher minimum wage on jobs and the economy.

“I represent the ward that is the most challenged and I think anything that happens with the minimum wage hurts my ward a lot more than elsewhere. So that’s a concern I have in going from around $10 to around $15,” Minneapolis City Councilman Blong Yang said about his North Minneapolis constituents earlier this year.

Yet city officials continue to refuse to divulge a recently completed taxpayer-funded legal opinion that could help resolve some of the uncertainty clouding the issue.

So emboldened community organizers and union activists push ahead, promoting their success in gathering three times more signatures than needed to put the measure before Minneapolis residents this fall in the Star Tribune. Outside grassroots groups with operatives trained in other cities across the country are now defining the legal playing field in Minneapolis.

Members of the groups 15 Now and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change laid out their legal arguments on Monday during a media conference call that featured the analysis of two attorneys. Both said they are confident that a higher minimum wage in Minneapolis would stand up to legal challenges.

“We found that the city of Minneapolis has the power to adopt a local minimum wage through its general welfare powers,” said Laura Huizar, a staff attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based National Employment Law Project. “It has broad power to address the health, safety and well-being of its residents.”

Huizar, whose organization has assisted in minimum-wage efforts around the country, said Minneapolis is now part of a much larger movement that includes 30 cities that have adopted local minimum wages higher than those required by the state.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal continues to hide behind the claim of attorney-client privilege, refusing to publicly release her legal analysis. In case you’re wondering, Segal is the attorney and the Minneapolis City Council is the client. Apparently, businesses and taxpayers have no standing.

Karen Marty, a local attorney who has worked with city governments and their charters, said she believes the minimum-wage advocates are also on solid footing when it comes to the question of which issues can be considered as charter amendments. In Minneapolis, only the council has the power to make specific ordinances, while citizens can propose and vote on amendments to the charter if they gather the required number of signatures.

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal has not weighed in on either legal question, but the chairman of the city’s Charter Commission has said he does not believe the minimum-wage issue would be a proper charter amendment proposal.

The last time Segal was on the hot seat, she issued the legal opinion that paved the way for Minneapolis to ignore a $10 million cap on public funding for professional stadiums and spend $150 million for a new Vikings stadium.

The blowback almost cost Segal her job in 2014. If Segal’s currently suppressed opinion clears the deck for a $15 minimum wage, employers say the blowback will cost the city far more jobs than that.