Tuesday, November 10, 2015

MN Workers Escalate Campaign for Higher Wages & Benefits

While Minneapolis city officials back off measures for paid sick leave and fair scheduling, hundreds of low-wage workers and supporters escalated their campaign for the “Minneapolis Works” agenda with a massive Day of Action Tuesday.

Fast food workers and retail cleaners who went on a one-day strike were joined by Walmart workers, union members, faith leaders and community activists in a march from a McDonald’s restaurant in northeast Minneapolis to the Macy’s store on Nicollet Mall, a downtown U.S. Bank branch and City Hall.

“Elected leaders are sitting on their hands while we’re paid so little that we are forced to rely on public assistance to support ourselves and our families,” said Steven Suffridge, a McDonald’s worker and member of CTUL, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha / The Center of Workers United in Struggle.

Guillermo Lindsey, who works at a McDonald’s in Roseville, said he and other strikers are among “thousands of low-wage workers in Minneapolis and in the nation who have taken bold action for change in their communities.”

The strikers seized on the nationwide events as an opportunity to renew pressure on the Minneapolis City Council to pass the Working Families Agenda – a $15 minimum wage, paid sick time, fair scheduling and increased enforcement of wage theft.

Mayor Betsy Hodges and a majority of council members recently backed away from their support of sick time and scheduling ordinances.

Seattle is getting $15. New York is getting $15,” 16-year fast-food veteran Steven Suffrige said. “Why can’t we get $15?”

Recent polling by the Service Employees International Union indicates the public is on the side of low-wage workers. Among likely voters in Minneapolis, 82 percent support raising the minimum wage to $15 now or over time, and 91 percent support fair scheduling and paid time off for illnesses or family emergencies.

By delaying action on the Working Families Agenda, strikers said, city officials are further denying justice to low-wage workers, many of whom are women and people of color.

“I work seven days a week,” said striking worker Michaela Hudson, who cleans the Macy’s in Ridgedale Mall. “I don’t get a day off; I don’t get any benefits.”

Lena Gardner, a leader of the #Black Lives Matter movement in Minneapolis, said the average worker of color in Minneapolis earns $28,000 annually, compared to $74,000 for the average white worker. “They want our bodies to control for their profits, but they don’t want our lives to matter,” Gardner said.

Demonstrators said employers who pay low wages and benefits must be challenged on many levels. So they held protests not only at McDonald’s, but at the downtown Macy’s – which subcontracts its cleaning services to companies that pay poverty-level wages – and at U.S. Bank, which has lobbied against measures like paid sick leave while continuing to foreclose on people’s homes.

As they marched down Hennepin Avenue in the early morning light, low-wage workers were applauded by some passersby. They passed a construction site, where Building Trades union members paused and watched in a show of solidarity.

Congressman Keith Ellison addressed the crowd at Macy’s, noting, “When we stand up, we win!”

Bill McCarthy, newly elected president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, told demonstrators, “You are part of the labor movement.”

At U.S. Bank, faith leaders from ISAIAH Minnesota called on the corporation to "act with justice."

Nationally, the Fight for $15 movement said rallies were being held in some 500 cities across the United States, with strikes by fast food and other low-wage workers scheduled in about half of them.

In Washington, national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called Fight for $15 “one of the most powerful examples of collective action. Having a voice on the job is a basic right. Using that voice and demanding it be heard is both courageous and inspiring. These workers deserve $15 an hour and a union.

“Whether advocating for social justice or raising wages, working people are beginning to fully realize the power of standing together. These are the movements that will make our workplaces fairer and our communities better.”

>>The article above was written by Barb Kucera and is reprinted from WorkdayMinnesota.  The article also includes reporting by Michael Moore, editor of The St. Paul Union Advocate.

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