The Minneapolis City Council is poised to vote on raising the city's minimum wage at the end of the month.
City staff have recommended a hike up to at least $12.49 an hour, with no exemption for tipped workers. A draft calls for the citywide minimum wage to reach $15 over four years. The ordinance comes after a failed ballot initiative drive last summer, and an ill-fated attempt by Republican legislators to remove local governments' authority to set their own labor laws.
It's been an emotional time for many in the restaurant industry, rife with passionately organized support and opposition, personal disagreements, social media sparring, and now, a mysterious blank petition.
On Thursday, the day of the final public hearing on the issue, about 200 workers and their advocates rallied on the steps of City Hall, equipped with giant puppets, drums, and a drill team.
Most supported a minimum wage increase without a "tip credit" -- i.e. factoring tips into base wage.
But there were also those, like waitress Sarah Norton of St. Paul, who spoke in its favor. Employers and workers who want a tip credit say that forcing restaurants to raise the minimum wage without recognizing that most servers already take home more than $15 an hour would result in layoffs or reduced scheduling.
"I have clawed, bit, spit, and hit my way to where I am right now, and I will be damned if I let this black-and-white, one-size-fits-all approach slaughter this business that I love," Norton told the city council. "We fully support a minimum wage increase for everyone else. Why is that so difficult to understand? Who does a tip credit hurt? All it does is preserve our industry the way that it is.
"Just so everyone knows, there may just be a few hundred of us here today, but at this time I would like to deliver the petition, which has over 2,000 signatures as of today."
City Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden directed Norton's supporters to pass the petition up to the city clerk so that councilmembers could study it later.
"And just so everybody understands, this hearing was scheduled today on Thursday, in June, in the middle of a shift change," Norton concluded. "So while we may be hearing constantly that you're not hearing enough from us, I hope this does the trick today."
The petition was composed of four three-inch-thick reams of paper bound with red ribbon, each topped with a cover letter from Norton reading:
"We, the people of the Minneapolis service industry, demand that you count our tips as wages! The IRS counts them, and Minneapolis City Hall needs to do the same! We support a $15 minimum wage for everyone else, but please leave our wages where they are ($9.50) and COUNT OUR TIPS! We adore our small business owners and want them to succeed. Squeezing them into an unsustainable business model will have devastating effects on the industry we all love dearly. Put the people's needs above your own political gain! This is an election year, and our friends and family are paying attention to this key issue. If you truly believe every vote counts, then step up and stop ignoring an entire segment of the workforce! TIPS ARE WAGES!"
City Pages asked to take a look at the petition on Friday. A bewildered clerk showed us three fat stacks of completely blank white paper. The third was being passed around by city council members.
According to the city clerk's office, people aren't supposed to submit props to the public record.
Reached Friday afternoon, Norton explained that each piece of paper represented a signature on a Change.org petition. As of Friday, it had 1,984 digital signatures. However, Change.org doesn't allow people to see the names of all the people who signed, or where they live. Only those who left a comment are identified.
Norton alone has access to the petition's signatures, but she says she believes they're "confidential information," and did not disclose them to the city.
Norton's testimony at the June 22 Special Committee of the Whole meeting can be viewed on the city of Minneapolis website starting at the 39:35 mark.
The city council will make amendments to the proposed ordinance on June 28, and hold a final vote on June 30.