Minnesota minimum wage debate amid labor changes

politics_mn.jpgThe debate over raising the Minnesota minimum wage comes north tonight with a community forum on the subject in Grand Rapids at 7 p.m. An statewide interfaith group is pushing an increase of the state’s minimum wage to $9.50. The current minimum wage in Minnesota is $6.15, well below the federal rate of $7.25 and essentially moot except for a handful of jobs.

The speaker will be Brian Rusche, whom I heard being interviewed on Northern Community Radio this morning. The thrust of his argument is that the “dignity of work” must be re-established, that people working full time should not have to live below the poverty line.

We are entering a strange time in the history of labor. Where 100 years ago people were asserting their economic rights in the context of physical production-oriented jobs (manufacturing, mining), today most new jobs are in the service industries, where wages remain low. In other words, as I’ve often stated, the equivalent of yesterday’s northern Minnesota immigrant miners and loggers are the cashiers and hotel housekeepers of today.

Remember the story of John Henry? The railroad worker who was so strong he could match the speed and precision of the steam drill, but who gave his life to prove that point? Well, the tall tale of our time might be the barista who goes up against this giant coffee machine that might replace 95,000 Starbucks employees one day.

As you can see from this Mashable item, we are entering a time of automation — all the more reason to compensate real people at a high enough rate to maintain human dignity and economic stability.

Here are the details about tonight’s meeting in Grand Rapids:

Representatives of Minnesota’s largest faith communities will hold a community forum in Grand Rapids on raising the hourly minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015. The forum will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, at Community Presbyterian Church, 703 Pokegama Ave., Grand Rapids, and is open to all members of Grand Rapids area congregations and to the general public.

Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC), will present the moral, economic, and community health aspects of raising the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage was one of the key recommendations of the 2002 report of the Legislative Commission to End Poverty.

Kathleen Blake, Grand Rapids, a Key Advocate with the Interfaith Children’s Advocacy Network and Rev. Alison Killen, also of the JRLC, will present information on the “Raise the Wage! $9.50 by 2015” campaign underway across Minnesota.
An area resident will also give the perspective of trying to support a family on minimum wage.

The 2014 legislative session will begin with minimum wage legislation having already passed both houses in the 2013 session, but in very different forms. The House version calls for $9.50 while the Senate bill tops out at $7.75. The bill is in conference committee.

The Jobs Now Coalition provides a calculator to determine what wage is needed to cover the cost of living in each of Minnesota’s counties. (Hint: It’s more than $6.15 … more than $7.25 … and even more than $9.50 in almost all cases.)

This is expected to be a major debate during the 2014 legislative session.


  1. David Gray says

    Representatives of Minnesota’s largest faith communities
    I wonder how many Baptists or Missouri Synod Lutherans will be there.

    There are two problems with this. The first is it closes off entry level work for young people. The second is it attempts to impose a norm statewide when costs in the Twin Cities are substantially higher than most of outstate Minnesota.

  2. If removing skills. abilities and credentials from the criteria used to determine what a person should be paid, why is the length of time worked (per hour) so important? Makes no sense at all. I suggest a campaign to eliminate the “per hour” requirement, or set a goal of zero.
    In the meantime, instead of “Raise the Wage! $9.50 by 2015” as the goal, let’s target $62.74.

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