$15 Ballot and MN Supreme Court

Minnesota Supreme Court strikes $15 minimum wage from ballot

With a mandate for a $15 minimum wage from voters, low-wage workers and advocates vow to pass a wage increase in 2016

Today, in a victory for big business groups and the Minneapolis City Council, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision ordering a $15 minimum wage charter amendment on the Minneapolis ballot. But the fight to win $15/hr for Minneapolis is far from over. $15 has already won the battle of public opinion in Minneapolis, with polls showing 68% support for the $15/hr charter amendment.

The ruling comes hours after low wage workers and advocates packed Minneapolis City Hall in support of a $15 minimum wage, chanting “Promises don’t pay the bills, drop the appeal!” and vowing to pass a wage increase in 2016 regardless of the outcome in court. Through this ballot campaign, low-wage workers have forced the Minneapolis City Council to seriously address a citywide wage increase for the first time.

“Our plan to build one of the biggest grassroots campaigns Minneapolis has ever seen to raise the minimum wage to $15 remains the same,” said Mike Griffin, field director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. “This was never about a charter amendment versus an ordinance. This is about people’s lives in a city with the worst racial disparities in the country. If we can’t raise wages through a charter amendment, we’ll raise them through an ordinance.”

Despite a resounding lower court decision ordering the question to the ballot and a long history of charter amendments regulating businesses in cities throughout Minnesota, the Supreme Court sided with the city of Minneapolis and reversed the lower court decision, striking the question from the ballot. The Chamber of Commerce had pressured the city to appeal, and filed an amicus brief on behalf of business groups.

“We are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling today,” said Laura Huizar, staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, a national research and advocacy organization that helped lead the legal fight. “We believe that it goes against decades of precedent and practice in the State of Minnesota and deprives Minneapolis residents of their constitutional right to vote on whether to approve a $15 minimum wage and protect that wage in the city’s charter.”

“This has been an issue for many years,” said Steven Suffridge, a member of CTUL and fast food worker. “We’re asking for a $15 minimum wage so that we can afford to live in this city, because the cost of living continues to go up while our quality of life continues to go down. City leaders are acting like we are not worth $15. They say welcome to Minneapolis, the land of milk and honey. But we’re not getting milk and honey, we’re barely getting water and bread with the current minimum wage so we will keep fighting until we get $15.”

Advocates had gathered well over the requisite number of signatures for a charter amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15, and a recent poll showed that 68% of Minneapolis voters would have voted yes on the charter amendment had it gone to the ballot.

“Low-wage workers garnered overwhelming support for $15/hour in Minneapolis. Our grassroots campaign now has a clear mandate to pass a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis,” said Ginger Jentzen, Executive Director of 15 Now Minnesota. “City Council can no longer hide behind procedural arguments to defend big business. City Hall can show support for $15/hour by passing our proposal for $15/hour as an ordinance.”

“Representative democracy isn’t always the best tool to address the concerns of underresourced communities and communities of color,” said Anthony Newby, executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. “To ensure the greater good we need to develop and leverage more creative tools of government — like this ballot campaign — that can elevate the voices of our most marginalized communities.

“Many council members have said repeatedly they would prefer to address this issue via an ordinance instead of a charter amendment. We plan to hold them to their word. As we work with the council and mayor on a strong ordinance for a $15 minimum wage that can pass this year, we will continue to find and create ways to make our democracy work for everyone, not just a privileged few.”

15 Now Minnesota, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change plan to hold a rally on Monday, September 12th, to launch the next phase of the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 in Minneapolis.