City Council advances agenda supporting low-wage workers

Members of CTUL at a recent demonstration at Walgreens on East Lake Street. Credit: Photo courtesy of CTUL

The Minneapolis City Council has moved the ball forward on efforts to improve the lives of low-wage Minneapolis workers who struggle to make ends meet and lack access to sick leave and other benefits.

The Council recently passed a resolution authored by all 13 Council members directing city staff to develop policy proposals supporting earned sick time, fair scheduling, wage theft prevention and a living wage. It also calls for city staff to recommend a study for examining the impact of establishing a minimum wage regionally and locally. 

The Council resolution passed April 17 comes in the wake of major demonstrations throughout the Twin Cities by low-wage workers in a variety of industries calling for improved working conditions and a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Members of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), an organization that organizes low-wage workers throughout the Twin Cities, also gathered at Walgreens on East Lake Street on April 28 to call attention to the problem of wage theft among sub-contracted janitors that clean the retailer and other stores throughout the region.

David Jimenez, a CTUL member, said he and other workers travel as far as Chicago to clean stores and work up to 18-hour days.

“I am here not only to recover the wages that I am owed, but also for all of the other workers who have faced the same problem,” he said, in a statement issued by CTUL. “I met other workers who were facing the same issue of wage theft. It is time to end this problem.”

City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) traveled to San Francisco in late April to learn more about the city’s efforts to strengthen protections for workers.

The city recently passed a Retail Workers Bill of Rights, which is estimated to cover about 40,000 workers in the city. The ordinance requires retailers to offer extra hours to existing part-time employees before hiring part-time workers, post schedules at least two weeks in advance and offer compensation for last-minute shift changes, and mandates that employees are allowed to stay on their jobs for at least 90 days if the retail business is sold to a new owner.

The ordinance applies to businesses with 20 or more locations globally and 20 or more employees in San Francisco.

Glidden met with labor leaders, a business group with representatives from Wells Fargo and Target Corp. and city leaders, among others, to learn more about San Francisco’s efforts to improve the lives of its workers and enforce employment laws.

“I’m not suggesting we’re going to do something that looks just like what they did in San Francisco, but clearly they have experience and they’ve been trying to figure out what the city’s role is in enforcement,” she said.

Glidden will pass on her lessons from San Francisco to city staff members that are working on crafting policies for Minneapolis. The next step is to figure out a method to engage community stakeholders in a conversation about workers’ issues.

“I want to see some of these policies adopted hopefully by the end of 2015 so that we have some more concrete ways that we are making life better for working people in the city of Minneapolis,” she said.

City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) said there’s growing pressure for the city to take action on the paid sick time, fair scheduling and prevention from wage theft.

“Those are three issues that are really important to workers in Minneapolis,” she said. “There’s a sense of urgency for us to take action because people are suffering from a lack of protection on those three items.”

Bender said she’s also committed to working with the small businesses in her ward and throughout the city to make sure they are on board with policy changes.

Mayor Betsy Hodges first promoted the Minneapolis Working Families Agenda in her State of the City Address on April 2.

“It’s no secret that there’s a growing structural income inequality that disproportionately affects people of color and women in Minneapolis and across the country,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges, in a statement. “If we are going to build the workplace of the future, we need to address the major issues that are facing Minneapolis workers. This resolution is the next step in that process; I look forward to working with the City Council, City staff, business leaders and community advocates on improving the workforce and workplace protections in Minneapolis.”

The advocacy group Minnesotans for a Fair Economy issued a statement from a local McDonald’s worker after the Council passed the resolution in mid-April.

“There is an incredible amount of power when workers stand up for themselves. When we started organizing we knew it would be a tremendous amount of work but we knew that we would get results,” said Guillermo Lindsay, who is organizing with CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha) and a McDonald’s employee. “It’s truly a sign that the Minneapolis City Council is listening to workers when they take action like this.”