MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Low-wage workers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are calling for an increase in Minnesota’s minimum wage.

The workers say they are forced to rely on government programs to get by.

It’s part of a growing debate over whether to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 an hour.

The Service Employees Union says 600 low-paid workers at Twin Cities Airport – including wheelchair pushers, cart drivers and aircraft cleaners – earn an average of $7.73 an hour, and receive millions of dollars in state public assistance.

Misrak Anbesse is a plane cleaner. She says that even at $9.50 an hour, it would be tough to get by.

“We have no benefits…we have no sick days, we have no leave,” Anbesse said. “It’s better than $7.25, but it’s not enough even.”

Anbesse says she relies on food stamps, and the union trying to organize airport workers says those workers use $1.7 million in similar public assistance every year.

Some lawmakers trying to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 would like to see it go even higher, citing working families in poverty.

“While the contractors who are employing them are turning out profits, the workers are forced to turn up at food shelves,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, (D) Golden Valley. “We have people who are working full time and are turning to the State of Minnesota for public assistance for food stamps.”

Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Ninety-three-thousand Minnesotans now work in jobs paying at or below that amount. If it jumped to $9.50 an hour, 350,000 people would get a raise.

But critics say it’s a job crusher and a bad move in a fragile economic recovery.

“What you are going to see is that businesses are going to respond by reducing hours, raising prices and limiting options for consumers,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, (R) Farmington “That’s what’s happened historically, and when the Democrats raise the minimum wage next year, that’s what will happen then.”

Instead of raising the minimum wage, Garofalo says Minnesota should expand the Working Family Tax Credit. That program offers tax refunds to working families, including those with children, earning up to $43,000 a year.

The minimum wage workers at MSP are employed by private companies and not the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

MAC tells us 20,000 people work at the airport, with an average annual wage last year of $66,270.

Pat Kessler


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