Police Harassment, Workers Rights Issues Getting Minneapolis Leaders Attention

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Advocates for citizens fed up with police harassment and mistreatment of workers are successfully getting the attention of Minneapolis city leaders. This week, Neighborhoods Organizing For Change Field (NOC) Organizer Mike Griffin led a “people’s state of the union” presentation at Minneapolis City Hall that outlined systemic labor issues for low-wage workers and how certain city laws are being abused by police to harass minorities. The presentation got the support and participation of several city council members.

Several low-wage workers shared their stories about the need for earned sick and safe time, fair scheduling, and higher wages.

“I worked at Target Center for five years,” said Joe Elliott. “I liked the work environment, but the company wasn’t treating me right. When my hand was broken, I had to come in with pins sticking out of my fingers and under heavy medication because I didn’t have paid time off and I needed the money. After five years, I was only earning $8.40/hour. All workers should have earned sick time, a fair schedule, and a living wage.”

Griffin pointed out that Target Center was asking the city council to approve funding an additional $24.5 million for renovations. He said he could “respect” that, but added, “we feel that Joe deserves a living wage and we can get that done with a workers’ bill of rights.”

Saqueliah Cowell had to work 13-hour overnight shifts alone when she worked at SuperAmerica. Her schedule was only posted a week in advance, and she couldn’t get time off to visit her mother when she had surgery. “My work schedule forced me to choose between my sick mother and my job. No one should have to make that choice,” said Saqueliah.

“I’m proud to stand here with working people today,” said city council member Lisa Bender. “I am ready to work with my colleagues to take action on paid sick time, fair scheduling and wage theft as soon as possible and to work to build support for a local living wage.”

Police abusing ordinance that should be changed says NOC

Community members and council members also addressed the need for better policing, including repealing the ordinances that ban spitting and lurking.

“The police stopped me for spitting outside of the NOC office, although I didn’t spit at all,” said NOC voting rights organizer Navell Gordon. “It was just an excuse to stop me and other young black men. We need to hold the police accountable. NOC will keep organizing to get rid of the lurking and spitting laws.”

Griffin says police appear to be selectively enforcing the spitting ordinance and mostly in North Minneapolis. He sees young people around the University of Minnesota / Prospect Park area spitting all the time, but they are not harassed by police.

“We are still dealing with the vestiges of slavery in this country,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who is co-authoring an ordinance change to repeal laws that ban spitting and lurking with the intent to commit a crime. “Structural racism is deeply entrenched in our society. We need to look at these laws and others to dismantle the new Jim Crow.”

The city council voted to hold a May 6 hearing on revising the spitting and lurking ordinances and voted 11-2 to approve an additional $24.5 million in city funds for the Target Center renovation. The total bill for the project is now at about $129 million with the city paying $74 million.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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