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Don’t like jobs paying $9.50? Don’t get one

Agriculture remains one of the staples of Minnesota’s economy. And, as elsewhere in the country, immigrant workers are an important source of agricultural labor. Many of these workers come to our state on H-2A visas, a temporary permit that allows people from other countries to do seasonal agricultural labor in the US. But, as reported in MinnPost recently,

In Minnesota, perhaps the biggest barrier to using H-2A workers is the overtime requirements, (farmer Jerry) Untiedt said. Minnesota is one of a few states that requires employers to pay H-2A workers overtime, in Minnesota’s case, time-and-a-half if they work more than 48 hours in a week.

His H-2A employees, who are used to working long weeks, want more hours, he said (workers MinnPost talked to agreed), but he can’t afford all the overtime.

Untiedt is the director of the Minnesota Growers Coalition, a group of about 30 farms advocating for a legislation to remove the overtime requirement. A bill that would have done so died in committee this legislative session, but the group hopes to pass it in the future.

Those opposed to such legislation say removing overtime protections would constitute taking advantage of the guest workers.

“We have to be balanced and we have to consider the dignity of all people who are here in our state and who we want to be looked upon and respected,” Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, told MinnPost in March.

Small businesses like Larry Brown’s art supply store in south Minneapolis are an important part of the Twin Cities’ economy. But now they have a $15 per hour minimum wage on the horizon.

Brown and his wife and business partner JoAnn say the wage hike will force them to make changes they don’t want to make to their business, Art Materials on Lyndale Avenue. Their competition outside the city’s borders won’t be subject to the same law, so they won’t be able to raise prices in the store to compensate for the higher labor costs, JoAnn said.

“We would probably have to reduce our hours,” she added. “We would probably, possibly, have to close on Sundays. And hire less people.”

The store has fewer than 20 employees. Many are part-time. The Browns say they already pay their employees well above the current minimum wage of $9.50 an hour.

“Look, I get the perspective of the business owner who says why is the government interfering in my business? I get that,” said (City Council member Lisa) Bender, whose south Minneapolis ward includes a thriving restaurant and bar scene as well as other commercial businesses. “But the reason we are is because our job is to govern for the greater good.”

A tale of two relationships

Here we have two cases. They might seem different, but they aren’t.

In the first case, Jerry Untiedt is willing to offer workers more hours at regular pay. The workers who are willing to work more hours at regular pay. But they don’t because the government stops them.

In the second case, Larry Brown is willing to pay workers, say, $11 per hour. There are workers who are willing to work at $11 per hour. But, if the City Council gets it way, they won’t be able to because the government will stop them.

It’s all fun and games until the government gets involved

What is the government’s excuse for banning these consensual relationships between employers and employees?

In the first case, Sen. Champion says that he has “to be balanced and…consider the dignity of all people who are here in our state and who we want to be looked upon and respected.” Which people are these? Surely the only relevant people in the relationship between Jerry Untiedt and his worker are Jerry Untiedt and his worker? What business is it of mine? Or yours?

In the second case, City Council member Bender says that she should be permitted to interfere in consensual relationships “because our job is to govern for the greater good.” Again, who is this ‘greater’ whose good we have to consider? If Larry Brown and his employee are ok with their proposed agreement, who else do we need to consult?

In both of these cases, in the name of some ‘greater good’, the government is stopping people from forming consensual relationships. It might be unusual to hear this sort of language applied to a employer and employee rather than a husband and wife, but the principle is the same. If you accept that government can regulate one, you accept that it can regulate the other.

People often say “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get one”. Fine. If you don’t want a job at $9.50 per hour, don’t get one.

John Phelan is an economist at Center of the American Experiment.

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