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Minimum Wage Debate: How Many Northlanders Could Benefit?

Updated: 02/06/2014 11:00 PM
Created: 02/06/2014 6:55 PM WDIO.com
By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

The minimum wage debate is flaring up again in the Northland with organizations and activist supporting a raise to $9.50 an hour. A state agency said that would impact 1 in 5 workers in the Arrowhead.

Whether you fry eggs or serve tables, working up a sweat doesn't always pay the best. Sandy Carlson is a server at Duluth Grill making $7.25 an hour. She said she wouldn't mind a small pay bump.

“It would be nice if the wages could catch up with inflation,” Carlson said. “I have it a little better than some of the people because we have tips here so that helps supplement your income.”

But not everyone gets tips. A report created by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development states that is common in the hospitality and retail industries in the region. The agency estimates that 31,800 people earn less than $9.50 an hour in the Arrowhead.

Samantha Johnson stopped in to apply for a job at Duluth Grill. She said raising the minimum wage would help her as a student and single mom.

“Right now I am renting from a family friend so it's a little lenient, but I'm looking to get out of that just to be able to support me and my son a little better. It's very difficult to do that,” Johnson said. “I would really enjoy if the minimum wage went up just because the checks would be a little easier to rely on then.”

Getting past the entry level is possible at Duluth Grill according to General Manager Jeffrey Petcoff.

“We're happy to pay our people well and we're always going to strive to pay top-dollar for great people,” Petcoff said.

He said that helps keep the restaurant ahead of minimum wage changes, but with tens of thousands of workers under the $9.50 mark there is a lot of catching up to do around the region.

Mayor Don Ness has supported raise to $9.50 an hour in the past, and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges pushed for the change at the Capitol Thursday morning.

The raise did pass in the Minnesota House of Representatives last year, but the Senate failed to pass the bill.

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