Minneapolis has been a charter city for nearly 100 years, regularly using charter amendments by citizen vote to update the city’s cornerstone document. In recent years, Minneapolis citizens have voted on charter amendments on regulation of liquor sales and ranked choice voting. But the city now seems to think this law that’s been on the books for decades will upend representative democracy. In fact, Minneapolis voters have been amending their charter for the last century. Our democracy works best when we balance authority of elected leaders with mechanisms of the citizenry as a whole in our law. That is exactly what our current law does -- and what we hope the Supreme Court preserves.
Turning in petition signatures, June 2016.
Judge Susan Robiner agreed with $15 minimum wage supporters that Minneapolis residents have a constitutional right to amend their charter and that this right includes a right to enact a minimum wage and address other subjects that advance the general welfare of residents. The city's efforts to appeal the decision amount to using taxpayer money to radically weaken residents' long-standing constitutional right to decide what is fundamental enough to protect in the city's charter.
Marching for $15 hours after our office burned down, April 15, 2015.
The city of Minneapolis argues that because Minneapolis lacks initiative and referendum power citizens cannot amend their charter. Not only is this argument fundamentally flawed -- charter amendments and initiative and referendum are distinct powers -- but the city ignores the fact that Minneapolis citizens have had the power to amend their charter for nearly a century.
The Minneapolis Downtown Council and Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce have said this court ruling could unleash a “chaotic future of ballot questions being forwarded by multiple interest groups.” As Minneapolis frets about the possible implications of ballot campaigns in the city, perhaps city officials would find it instructive to look to St. Paul, which has initiative and referendum power. The standards to get a citizen initiative on the ballot in St. Paul are much lower than a charter amendment in Minneapolis. Yet St. Paul has not been flooded with a barrage of ballot measures. The “chaotic future” feared by the city and downtown business groups simply does not exist.
Because of low wages, Rosheeda Credit (one of the plaintiffs against the city) and her boyfriend have to work three jobs between them to take care of their kids. She wants to earn $15 so she can move to a neighborhood where she doesn't have to worry about her kids' safety playing outside. Rosheeda is fighting so her future isn't chaotic. Pictured July 2016.
City council members argue that if people want a $15 minimum wage, they should come to the council and ask for an ordinance, conveniently forgetting that Minneapolis residents have been consistently calling for a $15 minimum wage in rallies and in meetings with individual council members, encouraging the council to lead on an ordinance for $15. But after years of discussion, there has been no meaningful progress on an ordinance. Even if council members don’t like the policy, they can't deny Minneapolis the right to vote on the charter amendment.
March on City Hall for $15, paid sick time, fair scheduling, and an end to wage theft, July 2015.
As Minneapolis wrestles with some of the worst racial disparities in the country, it is clear that raising wages is a critical piece of the answer. Yet the City Council’s only action to address this crisis has been to pass a non-binding staff directive to begin a process for a minimum wage ordinance in a year -- and the number might not be anywhere near the $15 that workers have fought for. If discussions with council members over the last several years couldn’t move a minimum wage ordinance, what faith can workers have that council will energetically craft a $15 minimum wage ordinance now?
The member meeting in January 2015 when NOC members endorsed a $15 minimum wage. That same month, we began conversations with the City Council about an ordinance.
We have a long tradition in this nation of government of the people, by the people, for the people. When the government fails to act, the citizens have a set of tools to respond. These are the checks and balances that define our representative democracy. And that’s a right Minneapolis voters have chosen to act on.