Will a new city ordinance ruin the restaurant industry in Minneapolis?

The Working Families Agenda could upend the way restaurants do business.

The Working Families Agenda could upend the way restaurants do business.

Remember when you were in college and took that serving job at Campus Burger? Chemistry class was at 8 a.m. in the spring, but then you had to take a summer Spanish class and that one was at noon. Then, once fall finally rolled around again, you had a full course load, but you still had to work, didn't you, because cookies and wine aren't free. And then there would be those shows you wanted to go to every weekend, so you had to hit up the manager to be first cut, because you wanted to get the hell out of there after the dinner rush. Who wants to sit around and marry ketchups for minimum wage after all the diners have gone and the tips have dried up? Not you. Rocking out at First Avenue — that's what kind of guy you are. 

Well, the Minneapolis City Council is proposing an ordinance that could very well change the restaurant industry as we all know it, and small restaurateurs are calling foul. In fact, some are saying that if the ordinance is passed, they will be forced to take their business elsewhere — to St. Paul, or perhaps even to other states. That is, they say, if they don't go out of business first. 

The "Working Families Agenda" for earned sick time and fair scheduling proposal, in a nutshell: 

1. Employees' schedules (including on-call shifts) must be made 28 days in advance. Employees must be notified of changes within 24 hours of the change being made. (Conversely, an employee has the right to request a flexible working arrangement "at any time" and the employer must promptly "evaluate" the request. If the request is based on "serious health condition, caregiving obligations, educational pursuits or a second job" the request "must" be granted by the employer.)

2. Employees can decline hours not included in their original schedule without retaliation. Employers must obtain written consent from employees to add shifts or hours.

3. Employees will receive one hour of "predictability pay" for all employer-related changes after the schedule is posted. Additionally, if an employer changes, cancels, or shortens a shift with less than 24 hours notice, the employee must receive four hours "predictability pay" or pay for the duration of the shift, whichever is lesser.

4. If an employee is expected to work more than 55 hours in a week or if the employee receives less than 11 hours of time off in between work shifts, that employee must be compensated at time-and-a-half pay. (In other words, no more "turn and burns" as we like to call them in the biz).

5. Employees must receive one hour of paid sick leave for every hours 30 hours worked. For employers with 21 or more employees, employees may accrue a maximum of 72 hours per year. Fewer than 21 employees, sick time may reach a maximum of 40 hours per year.

At a 7:30 a.m. public meeting held at Turtle Bread last Friday (for further proof that the Minneapolis City Council might be out of touch with the restaurant industry, see: 7:30 a.m. meeting), dozens of small business owners, but especially restaurateurs, cited strong concerns over the proposal. At worst, if passed, this ordinance could change the mutually beneficial flexible scheduling arrangement that servers and their bosses have with one another. 

Russell Klein of Minneapolis' Brasserie Zentral and St. Paul's Meritage gave a succinct example:

"At the beginning of last night, we had 20 reservations. A couple hours later, it went up to 60. By the end of the night, we had served about 100. How am I going to schedule that 28 days in advance? Are you going to require that my customers reserve their tables 28 days in advance?" 

You remember. If Campus Burger suddenly had an unexpected Friday rush, your manger might call you just as you were sitting down on the couch to the Thin Mints and the Pinot Noir.

"Can you come in?!" she'd frantically bellow. And though a good wine and chocolate buzz beckoned, so did the extra hundred bucks you were liable to pocket, and plus, thanks to your cooperation, you'd be more likely to get cherry shifts or be first cut next Saturday so you could go and see the Screaming Lips down at First Ave. It's just the way it works. It's the way things have always been done, and employees, as well as employers, like it (and need it) to be that way. It is the simple nature of the business. 

Each of the restaurateurs, many of whom are also parents, said that it is a matter of course that they take their employees' family lives, second jobs, educational pursuits, and interests into account when creating schedules. Moreover, especially in light of the local and national culinary industry staff shortage, it simply does not behoove employers to mistreat employees in the manner that the proposal seems to imply businesses are mistreating staff. "I find the language in this to be frankly offensive," said Thomas Kim, owner of The Rabbit Hole in Midtown Global Market. 

Desta Klein, Russel Klein's wife and business partner, said the City Council is "using a hacksaw where scalpel work is necessary," and that the proposal seems to want to punish all business owners for the activities of a few "bad actors." 

Most of the restaurateurs in attendance said they would not have a problem with figuring out a way to pay for sick leave, if they do not already do so, though coming up with financials for paid time off, along with "predictability pay," could potentially put some small restaurants out of business. Rebecca Illingworth of Tinto Cocina y Cantina said that she ran the numbers, and the costs would likely raise her expenses by 3 percent — a devastating number for an industry that operates on about a 5 to 6 percent profit margin.

Overall, the onerous requirements in the proposal would so drastically change the way restaurants do business that the ordinance could negatively impact and stunt the continued growth and boom that the local restaurant industry has seen over the past couple of years, having received  countless national accolades and attentions.

"More than a hundred restaurants have opened in Minneapolis in the past year, creating an epic amount of jobs — a tidal wave of jobs. This proposal will stop the growth and stop Minneapolis from being seen as an up-and-coming food city — it's going to create a disinvestment in restaurants and small business," said Thomas Boemer, owner of Corner Table and Revival, both located in Minneapolis. 

The ordinance could similarly affect snow removal and landscaping businesses, transportation industries, and other businesses that operate on unpredictable weather, customer behavior patterns, or other contingency factors.

The Minneapolis City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance by the end of the year.