Workers seek help from city in fight for higher paychecks

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January 8, 2014 // UPDATED 10:04 am - January 9, 2014
By: Sarah McKenzie
Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Council Member Alondra Cano had a listening session with a group of workers affiliated with CTUL earlier today.
Sarah McKenzie

A group of low-wage workers urged Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Council Member Alondra Cano to join them in their efforts to fight for a higher minimum wage at a listening session earlier today at one of the worker’s homes in South Minneapolis.

The workers are affiliated with CTUL, a local organization that helps organize workers across the Twin Cities advocate for fair wages and better working conditions. Janitors who clean Target stores along with workers for Walmart and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport shared their stories about the financial hardships they face. Those who spoke said they earned hourly wages ranging from $7.25 to $9.50.

A single mother of five children who cleans a Target store for $8 an hour said her paycheck doesn’t cover the grocery bill and all her expenses. Another Target janitor said illness has kept him away from work and since he doesn’t have health insurance, he can’t afford to go to the clinic for treatment.

Hodges, who has walked the picket line with CTUL members, told the workers she sympathizes with them and will work with other leaders across the region to advocate for higher wages for them.

“This is a conversation I’ve been having with some of you for quite some time,” Hodges said. “When we can win a minimum wage struggle together, that benefits everybody. It’s good for you, but it’s good for everyone. … It gives people a better shot at better lives.”

When asked if she supports Minneapolis mandating its own minimum wage, Hodges said the issue is better addressed at the state level.

“Minneapolis can’t do this alone,” she said.

She also noted that President Barack Obama supports an increase in the federal minimum wage. He has advocated raising the hourly wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour.

Hodges and a group of other mayors from across the country recently met with Obama at the White House to discuss strategies for dealing with income inequality.

The city’s agenda for the upcoming state legislative session includes a renewed push for a higher minimum wage, but it doesn’t list a specific hourly wage, said Matt Lindstrom, a spokesman for the city.

Minnesota’s minimum wage is $6.15 — one of the lowest state minimum wages in the nation.

A push to raise the state’s minimum wage failed last legislative session, but supporters plan to lobby for an increase during the upcoming 2014 session. DFL leaders and several groups supporting low-wage workers have pushed to raise the hourly wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015.

Three other states besides Minnesota have minimum wages lower than the federal minimum wage, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

California recently approved increasing the state’s hourly wage to $9/hour effective July 1, 2014 and then $10/hour effective Jan. 1, 2016. Connecticut’s minimum wage will increase to $9/hour Jan. 1, 2015 as will New York state’s on Dec. 31, 2015.

Cano, the new Council member representing the 9th Ward, told the workers she was planning to host another forum soon to discuss the issue. She also urged them to connect with state legislators to discuss the importance of supporting legislation to increase the minimum wage.

Hodges said the struggles of the workers should be on everyone’s radar.

“The struggles that janitors are having and those at the airport are having — those are the struggles of the community,” she said. “Your experience matters to the entire community.”