Living on minimum wage for five days

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February 21, 2014 // UPDATED 10:29 am - February 26, 2014
By: Sarah McKenzie
Rep. Frank Hornstein at the Linden Hills Co-op.
Sarah McKenzie
Rep. Frank Hornstein joins legislators across the state in challenge to get by on a minimum-wage budget

Try shopping at the Linden Hills Co-op on a food budget capped at $5 per day.

Not an easy task, but one recently attempted by state Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-61A) for a minimum wage challenge with four other lawmakers across the state as part of the campaign to increase the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.

The state Legislature convenes Tuesday, Feb. 25 and DFL leaders who control the House and Senate have pledged to make increasing the minimum wage a top priority. Legislation stalled in conference committee at the end of last year’s session.

Hornstein had a burrito and orange juice at McDonald’s for breakfast, pizza for lunch and ramen noodles for dinner the first day of the challenge Feb. 18. The second day he bought bananas, pears, baked potatoes and Boca burgers at the co-op.

“You have to always think about every purchase,” he said.

In addition to his daily food budget of $5, he has $9 to spend on transportation costs each day. He spends $6 a day on bus fare from Linden Hills to the Capitol in St. Paul.

Hornstein said he favors a higher minimum wage than $9.50, but said it’s a “step in the right direction.”

“I think it’s one of the defining issues of our upcoming session,” he said. “This is the economic justice issue of our day.”

Rep. Karen Clark of Minneapolis along with Reps. John Lesch of St. Paul, Jason Metsa of Virginia and Shannon Savick of Wells are also participating in the minimum wage challenge. The group will meet with low-wage workers on Feb. 24 to talk about their experiences.

Workers who clean Target stores teamed up for an event with Organizing for Action on Feb. 19 outside the Target store on Nicollet Mall. The group called for higher wages for the janitors and asked Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel to take the minimum wage challenge for a week. The challenge would be the same as it was for the state legislators — a budget of $5 a day for food and $9 a day for transportation expenses. No word yet if Steinhafel has decided to participate. 

The workers are planning a march Feb. 26 starting at Westminster Presbyterian Church at 12th & Nicollet and ending at the Target store to continue their push for higher wages.

The state’s minimum wage is generally $7.25 an hour, but can be $5.25 in certain cases, according to the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

Minnesota had about 461,300 jobs (16.1 percent of the state’s total)­ that paid less than $9.50 an hour in 2012, according to DEED research. The accommodations and food service sector had 58.5 percent jobs that paid less than $9.50 an hour — the highest percentage of the state's employment sectors. 

The Minnesota Restaurant Association opposes legislation increasing the minimum wage without factoring in tips.

The association held a Day in My Restaurant event at Murray’s in downtown Minneapolis and 19 other restaurants across the state on Feb. 18 to hear from restaurateurs about the issue.

The association favors a “tipped employee tier” that would keep minimum wage workers at $7.25 as long as they earned at least $12 an hour with tips.

About 90 percent of the restaurant association’s 115 members reported they would increase menu prices and 77 percent would reduce staff hours if minimum wage legislation passes without factoring in tips, according to a survey by the association.

“Minnesota’s restaurant and hospitality industry is the second-largest employer in the state,” said Dan McElroy, the association’s executive vice president. “Restaurants provide tens of thousands of good jobs across every party of our state. We are concerned that a minimum wage increase without considering the impact of tips would seriously impact out ability to maintain and grow restaurant jobs, hurting the very people a minimum wage increase is intended to benefit.”

The push to increase the state’s minimum wage comes as President Barack Obama has proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. He singled out Punch Pizza founder John Soranno in his State of the Union Address earlier this year for raising starting wages for workers to $10 an hour at its Twin Cities locations.

The Minneapolis City Council has approved a resolution supporting increasing the state’s minimum resolution to $9.50 by 2015 as part of its 2014 legislative agenda.

In Minneapolis, roughly 30,000 workers would be impacted and have an additional $40 million in purchasing power, according to Minnesota 2020, a nonpartisan think tank.

City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) said it’s crucial for legislators to act now on the issue.

“Raising the minimum wage is absolutely one of the most important things to do at the Legislature this year,” she said. “Minnesota must recognize the tie of fair wages to ensuring our residents can support themselves and their families.”

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One-day exhibit highlights minimum wage issue

Rogue Citizen, a collective of five artists, is holding a one-day exhibit called “Minimum Wage” on Saturday, March 8 at the Gamut Gallery, 1006 Marquette Ave. S., to raise awareness about low-wage work.

The collective’s artists each created more than 40 pieces of art. The artwork will be sold to people for any price they set as long as it’s at least the state’s minimum wage.

The event will also feature live music and DJs and spoken word by Javier Morillo-Alicea, president of SEIU Local 26.

Proceeds from the event will be donated to three local organizations supporting low-wage workers.

The one-day exhibit/show runs 4–11 p.m.