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Survey: Airport vendors not freaked out about $15 minimum wage

Fewer than 5 percent of survey takers said they couldn't afford to operate at the airport with a $15 wage.

Fewer than 5 percent of survey takers said they couldn't afford to operate at the airport with a $15 wage. Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

During this decade, businesses large and small in both Minneapolis and St. Paul will have to start paying employees $15 an hour.

On July 1, 2022, the new wage goes into effect for "large" employers (100-plus employees) in Minneapolis and for "macro" businesses (those with upwards of 10,000 workers) in St. Paul. 

The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport isn't subject to the laws of either city, but might impose a $15 minimum of its own on the very same day it goes into effect in both. Virtually all airport jobs, from cleaning to wheelchair assistance, ticketing to checking out rental cars, would be subject to the provision now being considered by the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

Members of the public are invited to weigh in on the proposal this morning at a 10:30 a.m. subcommittee hearing at the airport.

Companies that operate out of the airport have already been asked how they'd cope with the new pay scale. In contrast to the business communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, where owners (especially of bars and restaurants) warned they'd have to cut staff, cut hours, or close, airport businesses say they could weather the wage hike without changing much, if anything.

Nearly 80 percent of 140 airport businesses surveyed said they "would not make any changes" if a $15 minimum went into effect, according to a recent survey covered by the Minneapolis Business Journal. 

A combined 28 percent percent of owners said they'd pass "all" or "some" of the cost increase on to customers in the form of higher prices. Another 14 percent said they'd simply experience a "reduction in profitability," while more than 66 percent predicted "no impact on our business."

Fewer than 5 percent of respondents said the new wage would mean they could "no longer afford" to run an airport business, with about 12 percent of businesses saying they're "unsure." 

Asked how a $15 minimum would impact their number of employees or the hours those employees get, more than 90 percent of businesses surveyed said they "would make no change to the number." Employers said they're even less likely to touch benefits like healthcare or paid time off to afford the new wage.

On an anonymous "comments/feedback" section, a number of respondents said all of their employees are already paid in excess of $15 an hour, and many expressed approval. (One respondent did comment the government dictating pay is "socialism/communism and anti-American.") 

Consultant Sean Snaith, who wrote a report for the airport commission based on the survey, tells the Journal a "small subset of businesses" might "require some extra attention" to prepare for the higher minimum. 

In keeping with Minneapolis and St. Paul, the airport commission's proposal does not incldue a tip credit, which allows bars and restaurants to count tips toward a server's hourly pay. In a conclusion section about the "outlook for wages," the report suggests some companies might "substitute capital for less-skilled labor," citing "touch screen terminals to replace servers in restaurants or self checkout kiosks to replace cashiers in retail outlets" as possible outcomes.

Snaith's report concludes:

"In my professional opinion, the assumption that wages at MSP would reach near‐equilibrium with those mandated by the ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul within the next three years is reasonable, despite the uncertainty regarding the specific path that wages might follow."