Mayor Coleman lays out living wage ordinance

class=img_thumbleft>During last year's St. Paul mayoral race, challenger Chris Coleman frequently promised to push for a beefed-up living wage ordinance if elected. Today the first-year mayor followed through on that promise, laying out his proposal at a press conference in the basement of City Hall.

Under the proposed ordinance, businesses that receive more than $100,000 in city funds will be required to pay a living wage to workers. That means 130 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four, or $12.51 per hour. If the company provides health care coverage the wage requirement is reduced to 110 percent of the poverty level, or $10.58 per hour.

There are, however, several exemptions included in the proposal. Small businesses and nonprofit groups with revenues of less than $1 million annually and fewer than 20 employees will be permitted to ignore the policy. According to the Minnesota Council of Non-profits this means that roughly two thirds of the city's tax-exempt organizations will not have to adhere to the new wage stricture. In addition, companies that utilize part time, seasonal, or temporary workers will only have to pay 90 percent of such employees a living wage. Finally, interns and job-training programs will also be exempt from the ordinance.

St. Paul has long had a living-wage "policy," but there was no means of enforcing it. Under the current proposal businesses that violate the law would be subject to penalties up to the entire amount of the company's municipal subsidy.

Coleman was joined at the press conference by four city council members, meaning that he has sufficient votes to get the ordinance passed. The living wage proposal is expected to have its first hearing at next week's city council meeting and will likely be enacted by the end of the year. The proposal hues closely to a similar policy enacted by Minneapolis last year.

Coleman was dismissive of suggestions by groups such as the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce that the ordinance will deter businesses from operating in the city. "Quite frankly it does pit region against region, city against city, state against state, and that's the problem," he conceded. "We've got to view ourselves as one and there should be a national policy. If the chamber of commerce wishes to join me in pursuing that I'd be more than happy to stand with them."

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