#MplsWorks: a historic vote

The leaders of the City of Minneapolis talk a lot about racial disparities, and yet when the conversation turns to solutions nobody seems to know what to do. 

Today a movement of workers and working families have put a policy change in the hands of our leaders that will improve the lives of thousands of people, and create real, tangible change in these disparities that have plagued our city for years. To think that corporate interests have swayed votes on an opportunity so profound for our citizens is unacceptable.

Our leaders must ask themselves a question? What side of history do they want to be on?  The side that pushes people of color and under resourced families out of this great city and deeper into poverty while capitulating to private interests? Or the side that creates equal opportunity for all citizens to thrive and continues to build a city that is inclusive for everyone?

Council members can draft a policy for the Working Families Agenda that supports everyone affected by these issues. As a former server, I understand that restaurants operate on slim margins and within a different business model than most. That doesn’t mean that the voices of thousands of struggling workers should be silenced to accommodate our foodie scene. We can compromise and pass an agenda that supports everyone.

After speaking with several workers it is clear that the time to change is now, and that a path forward to amend fair scheduling to ensure the success of all workers and businesses is possible. The data is striking and is indicative of the dichotomy in livelihood that exists in Minneapolis between people of color and white residents. 

A recent survey done by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, The Center for Popular Democracy, and Fair Workweek Initiative engaged 549 workers in North Minneapolis.  Three out of five of the workers surveyed were women and 75 percent were black. The data showed that nearly three quarters of workers surveyed hold hourly jobs, higher than the statewide rate of 60 percent, and hourly workers reported that they routinely do not know when they are working even 24 hours before their shift begins. 

Over one million workers across the state have no access to paid sick time. This can be a significant burden on parents and women of color who represent the most oppressed demographic as evidenced by data. 

Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) organizes low-wage workers from across the Twin Cities to develop leadership and educate one another to build power and lead the struggle for fair wages, better working conditions, basic respect and a voice in their workplaces. CTUL alone has won back over $1.8 million dollars in stolen wages in the last five years, and this is not to mention the wage theft that has gone unreported. 

And then there’s fair scheduling. This has been the most contentious area of the debate around the Working Families Agenda. Sadly, despite hundreds of workers rallying at City Hall and delivering petitions to our elected leaders for months, most of the city wasn’t aware of the proposal until the media started talking about its potential implications on the restaurant industry. 

Shannon Marple is a manager and bartender at Chiang Mai Thai in Uptown. She works in the front of the house and creates the schedule for all of the staff as well. 

“I support workers having sick time and being protected from wage theft.  I think a 14-day schedule is reasonable, but 28 is not. I’m for workers being treated fairly but if an agenda like this is going to pass it needs to work for all industries,” she said.

Marple was concerned that paying staff for being taken off the schedule when extenuating circumstances such as weather arise may put the modest restaurant out of business.

So where do we go from here? The people have spoken and it is clear that workers need and deserve change. 

Evidence from other states that have implemented this agenda have proven that they not only do not hurt small businesses, but have helped growth in many sectors.

Late on the evening of Oct. 22n Council Member Andrew Johnson called for a meeting at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change to inform the community that the public hearing scheduled for Nov. 4 was going to be cancelled and that the ordinance was going to be revised to “get the language right.” 

With just two hours notice the office was packed with over 50 of the most vulnerable workers in the city.

Tacara Monn who works in Minneapolis Public Schools looked at her children with tears in her eyes and said: “I just want to spend time at home with my babies but I have to bring them here to fight to pass something that should already be in place.” 

Others expressed their frustration in failed promises of equity and reminded the Council Member that they vote today, but the citizens of Minneapolis vote in 2017.  Several even stated, “Do your job.” 

We have intelligent, accountable, and pragmatic leaders in the City Council and in our Mayor.

When the City Council gets the language right on the Working Families Agenda they should present a draft that includes sick and safe time, protection from wage theft, a $15 minimum wage and amended fair scheduling that supports both workers and all businesses including restaurants.  Under resourced people of color have sacrificed enough in this city, and it is time for our city’s leaders to compromise to meet their needs and create a better Minneapolis for all of us.  This has fueled a fire in many to continue fighting until they win.  If the Council doesn’t get this vote right, the people of Minneapolis will in 2017. 

Ryan Stopera is a social worker and community organizer in Minneapolis. He is on the board of directors of MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.