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Minneapolis mayor, City Council members propose new labor board to address worker dissatisfaction

15 June 2022

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a majority of City Council members and a host of labor groups proposed on Wednesday that the city establish a new Labor Standards Board.

The effort would include workers, business leaders and public officials aiming to address both public and private-industry worker dissatisfaction and issues such as pay, safety and equity.

“When we talk about the future, we’re talking about more flexibility for work and safer operations for work,” Frey said while announcing the proposal at a Wednesday morning press conference at Minneapolis City Hall. “Now, a big part of that is making sure that we have a Labor Standards Board that is valuing the input of workers that is set up from the very beginning.”

Council members Jason Chavez, Aisha Chughtai, Jeremiah Ellison, Emily Koski, Jamal Osman, Linea Palmisano, Elliott Payne, Michael Rainville, LaTrisha Vetaw, and Robin Wonsley attended in favor of the proposal.

The Main Street Alliance of Minnesota, an organization of small business owners, provided a statement in support: “Small business owners applaud the creation of a Minneapolis Labor Standards Board that would continue to uplift and invest in our workers, especially as we recover from systemic challenge and the ongoing pandemic.”

But larger corporations haven’t weighed in yet. Target, a member of Minneapolis’ Workplace Advisory Committee — created in 2016 to instruct the city on labor policy — declined to comment. The Minneapolis Downtown Council and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber did not immediately respond with a comment on the proposal.

Union leaders who joined the announcement lauded the plan.

“An exciting new proposal that we believe will bring together workers, business and public to find solutions that help make sure Minneapolis doesn’t just go back to the status quo,” said Brahim Kone, secretary of Service Employees International Union Local 26.

Ignacia Ambriz, who works at a local retailer, has a theory on why labor shortages are plaguing almost every industry: “I know firsthand how hard we worked to keep the economy running through the pandemic. I’d work 14-15 hour days … I got sick with COVID twice. This crisis could have been avoided if workers were being paid a living wage, had access to sick time, and other workplace protections.”

What is a labor standards board?

Labor standards boards are typically composed of employers, workers and government representatives. Their purpose is to address issues that come in up specific industries and establish standard working conditions.

A number of American cities and states have established labor boards in recent years. In 2021, labor boards were created for home care workers in Nevada, agricultural workers in Colorado and nursing home workers in Michigan.

In 2015, the New York Wage Board claimed a victory when its recommendation that the state minimum wage for fast food workers increase from $8.75 an hour to $15.

Minneapolis already has an ordinance raising the city’s minimum wage to $15. It has been gradually going into effect since 2017, and it will be fully implemented by both large and small employers by 2024.

What is being proposed in Minneapolis?

Many details are still getting worked out. It’s unclear how many members a Minneapolis Labor Standards Board would have, how they would be appointed, how the board would be staffed and what its administrative costs would be.

But according to SEIU Local 26, one way to populate the Labor Standards Board is to transplant an equal number of workers and employers from the city’s existing Workplace Advisory Committee to it.

Once formed, the Labor Standards Board could then create as many sectoral standards boards as it deems necessary to address issues that workers raise in any number of specific industries. Those boards would be temporary, dissolving once they’ve investigated a problem — whether it be low wages or safety violations — and recommended fixes.

How those recommendations would be legally binding and enforceable still needs to be determined by the city attorney’s office.

What’s next?

One or more of the supportive City Council members would introduce a proposed ordinance to create a Labor Standards Board that would eventually need to be approved.

Frey would have to include funding for it in his 2023 budget proposal, which is anticipated in mid-August.

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