Frustrated by politics and the courts, workers who want to raise the minimum wage in Minneapolis to $15 an hour are turning up the heat on the city council.
Monday was supposed to be kick off of a city-wide campaign to get voters to approve a charter amendment raising the city’s minimum wage. That was derailed earlier about two weeks ago when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the amendment could not be on the ballot. Now the groups behind that amendment are lobbying the public to put pressure on the city council for immediate action.
“What we want to let city council know today is that we need a $15 an hour ordinance passed now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next year. But now,” yelled a CTUL organizer to a crowd gathered outside of a Wendy’s fast food restaurant on West Broadway.
“I’m tired of being patient. I’ve been patient for too long,” chimed in ISAIAH President Rev. Paul Slack. “Let’s do justice and do it now.”
Since the court stopped the charter amendment, activists have turned their attention to passing an ordinance that would do much the same thing — raising the minimum wage businesses must pay employees in the city of Minneapolis gradually to $15 an hour by the year 2020. For businesses with less than 500 employees, the minimum wage wouldn’t hit $15 an hour until 2022. The city council is considering action, but $15Now Executive Director Ginger Jentzen says what the council is considering is “general and non-binding.”
Diverse coalition shows support for higher wages
Monday’s rally attracted workers trying to live on minimum wage, members of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), CTUL and $15Now. They were joined by members of ISAIAH, MPIRG and striking nurses from the Minnesota Nurses Association.
Hundreds of low-wage workers, faith leaders, striking nurses and allies marched down West Broadway. The march stopped at big businesses Rev. Slack called “poverty profiteers”— including fast food restaurants, payday lending companies, and banks.
Outside Ace Payday Lending, people who had gotten stuck in the debt trap told their stories about how payday lending preys off of poverty wages. “People that don’t make a living wage can’t afford an emergency. Payday lenders trap you in a cycle of predatory debt. They get rich off the backs of the poor. It’s time to end poverty wages and the predatory lending that’s bleeding our communities dry,” said Slack.
Low wage working blues
Lexi Collins held up a big mock check like the ones you see lottery winners holding. But the amount on the check for a week’s worth of work from Burger King was not a jackpot. Her $9.75 an hour job paid her $237.50. Annually that works out to about $12,350 a year which is just barely above the poverty line for a single person in Minnesota and definitely not enough to support a family — which Collins is about to start. “That’s not enough to live off of right now. I’m pregnant too with a baby. I can’t get accepted for housing because I don’t make enough at work. I can’t do a lot with $9.75.”
Collins says she started working for Burger King when she was 14. She’s 19 now and hopes to be promoted to manager. If she makes manager she’ll get an increase. But only “up to 11 dollars,” says Collins. Still far below a livable $15 an hour wage.
Health concerns and common foe draws nurses support
A Minnesota Nurses Association member explained why they were a large part of the march. “We’re here supporting 15 because we’re concerned about the community as nurses. You guys are our patients. You guys are our community. Poverty is the leading cause that leads to people being sick, people not taking good enough care of themselves, not having access to good food.”
She also saw that minimum wage workers and the nurses who were on strike against Allina hospitals had a common foe in big corporations. “It’s these businesses that are coming after you guys,” she said referring to those who were supporting a minimum wage hike. “And it’s also these businesses that are trying to break our union.”