Group Marches through Duluth for Higher Minimum Wage

Posted at: 10/14/2013 9:33 PM
Updated at: 10/14/2013 10:14 PM
By: Alan Hoglund

A march through Duluth to increase the minimum wage marks the beginning of rallies you'll see on the issue ahead of Minnesota's next legislative session. That's according to Zach Sias, with the Northeast Area Labor Council.

The organization is part of a coalition called "Raise the Wage," aiming to raise the minimum wage in Minnesota to $9.50 an hour by 2015.

"We are unstoppable. A living wage is possible," a group of more than 100 people chanted, marching from Bayfront Festival Park to Canal Park Monday afternoon.

Sias told Eyewitness News that the minimum wage is too low.

"Nobody should have to work full time and live in poverty," he said. "Even though it's just a little bit more, that is more money that people can use to buy groceries, buy gas, pay for rent."

Most minimum wage employees get paid $7.25 an hour - a rate set by the federal government. According to the Department of Labor, that's the same as the state minimum in Wisconsin. But in Minnesota the state minimum wage is more than a buck less - $6.15 an hour.

A critic of the minimum wage hike, London Road Rental Center Owner Jerry Kortesmaki said "I'm a lifelong resident of Minnesota and I want the jobs to stay."

Kortesmaki said a minimum wage hike will take a toll on Minnesota businesses. "This is just one more thing that is going to discourage businesses from hiring people."

He said a wage increase will drive up the price of products, services, and rent. He said it will prompt businesses to go to other states where they can pay their employees less.

"It is going to get rid of more jobs. More jobs are going to go to somewhere else," Kortesmaki said.

But Sias is convinced they'll stay.

He said "we think businesses want to do business in the state of Minnesota because we have a talented work force. People are educated and it's just a great place to live."

During the last legislative session, Minnesota lawmakers made raising the minimum wage a priority. But the Democrat-controlled House and Senate couldn't agree on how much.

In May, the Senate passed a bill to bump up the minimum wage to $7.75 by 2015. The week prior, the House approved a bill raising the wage in three steps until it hits $9.50 by the same year - the same amount the "Raise the Wage" coalition wants.

Governor Mark Dayton has said he would settle for a $9.50 an hour minimum wage, but would prefer a higher amount.

Sias said the coalition will be active until the next session starts in February of 2014.