Week eight started off with an evaluation of current minimum wage policies, and a reminder of the four charges given to the committee: minimum wage rate and indexing to inflation, exemptions, tip adjustment, and phase-in time.
Thomas Durfee’s report was very enlightening, primarily giving an overview of who in Saint Paul earns $15, and who pays $15. His report, based on data provided by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), indicates that Saint Paul has 180,000 jobs. The data created a clear picture of trends based on firm size and industry, as it pertains to wages. Looking at the data, we can conclude that the non-profit sector has the most significant population of workers being paid under $15, accounting for 34% of this subset. The industries in this sector include educational services, health care and social assistance, and arts, entertainment and recreation. To see Durfee’s research report check here.
This was followed by a review of the study committee process thus far, looking at the committee’s role and ensuring that they exercise due diligence as they move into the “recommendations” phase.
During discussion/review of last week’s meeting, some committee members undoubtedly were frustrated with the way the meeting had gone. Some were concerned about questions that had gone beyond “seeking to understand” and moved into “let’s debate.” Others felt time management had been inadequate, such that the panel presentation was too long and the committee Q&A/discussion period too short. The challenge, of course, is the time constraints placed on the committee: only so much time to learn as much as possible, to provide informed recommendations to the Mayor. It is the nature of such work, of course, and the committee seems to be reacting to that tension. This is proving to be challenging work.
That said, reviewing last week’s meeting and reflecting back on the committee’s goals and study process was useful in that it created a sense of intentionality, leading into this week’s meeting that was, arguably, the most productive and informative thus far.
A valuable addition to this week’s session was a panel of four hourly workers. The panel was comprised of a Hispanic woman who has been cleaning office buildings for 40 years; a 16 year-old young man who supports his mother by working almost full time at a non-profit, a college graduate with 10 years in retail, and a PCA/union organizer whose career and family are deeply invested in PCA services. The fifth panelist was a small business owner from Seattle, who traveled to Saint Paul specifically to share her company’s experience with $15 minimum wage.
The panel told their stories, of the hardship experienced by families who earn wages below $15/hour. The committee was made aware of implicit barriers to entry in better paying jobs and industries, including age, documentation, mobility and disabilities, access to transportation, as well as time and resources to research opportunities of advancement. Panelists unilaterally were opposed to exemptions.
Members of this panel work anywhere from 30 to 90 hours a week, and all have constraints that hinder them from seeking new opportunities to earn higher wages.
Once the panel finished, the committee spent a great deal of time in conversation. The nuances of this issue can’t be understated; all are feeling the burden of this process – and the need for wisdom in recommending next steps.