Shar Knutson: It’s time for Senate to act on minimum wage

mug-knutsonWhen the Minnesota Legislature reconvenes on February 25th, lawmakers will be greeted by hundreds of people from Labor, Faith, Non-Profit, and Community Groups calling on them to increase Minnesota’s minimum wage to at least $9.50 per hour.

The hundreds of Minnesotans gathered at the Capitol will be there because of one underlying principle; nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty. They’ll be gathered there because in 2013, the Minnesota Senate failed to act on a meaningful minimum wage increase.

[Click here to register for the Feb. 25 rally and to find volunteer opportunities with the Raise the Wage campaign near you!]

In 2013, the Minnesota House passed legislation that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2015, increase the rate each subsequent year based on inflation, conform the state to the federal 40 hour work week, and protect tipped workers from having their wages cut. Governor Mark Dayton went on record saying he would sign a $9.50 minimum wage increase.

Unfortunately, the Minnesota Senate decided to pass a bill to raise the wage to $7.75, only 50 cents higher than the federal minimum wage. By the time session ended, a final bill was still left on the table.

Since the end of the 2013 legislative session, a broad and growing coalition of community, faith, labor, non-profit and service-based organizations has come together to make sure a minimum wage increase to at least $9.50 is on Governor Dayton’s desk early in the 2014 session. We’ve been having conversations with Minnesotans all year and are finding that a significant minimum wage increase enjoys broad support. During the state fair, more than 5,000 people signed postcards showing their support. We’re knocking on doors. We’re making phone calls. We’re showing up at town meetings. This is a campaign with serious momentum.

The time is right. On January 28, President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage on all new federal contracts to $10.10 per hour and called for a federal minimum wage increase to $10.10 in his State of the Union Speech.

With the President of the United States, the Governor of Minnesota, the Minnesota House, the Minnesota DFL Party, and a clear majority of Minnesotans all supporting a minimum wage increase of at least $9.50 per hour; this should be an easy and smart decision for a Minnesota Senate with a DFL majority.

The clock is ticking. There is still much work to be done. It is vital that we continue to tell our State Senators that a minimum wage increase to at least $9.50 per hour is passed early in the 2014 session. Please visit the coalition website at www.raisethewagemn.org to get in contact with the campaign, volunteer for a phone bank, and to contact your Senator.

– Shar Knutson is president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation with more than 1,000 affiliate unions representing more than 300,000 working people.

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