St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla estimated that 400 protesters — though organizers said it was closer to 1,000 — marched along University Avenue on Friday morning as others protested in Minneapolis to bring attention to workers’ low pay and minimal benefits at nearby retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.
The arrests occurred when protesters blocked traffic near the intersection of Snelling and University avenues.
The demonstrations mirrored other events and arrests in Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and a handful of other cities as labor-backed groups expressed anger over wages and working conditions. However, no major incidents were reported.
“For too long, we have seen the rich get richer while working families get less and less. We’re sick and tired of this,” said Leroy Graham, employee of Diversified Maintenance, which cleans Target stores, said in a statement. Graham is a member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), or the Center of Workers United in Struggle.
In Minneapolis, within earshot of Target’s corporate headquarters, scores of maintenance workers and their supporters banged drums, their voices amplified by megaphones. The protest began at 6 a.m. and was expected to last until 11 p.m.
The one-day job action is targeting Targets and other retailers by the dozens in Minnesota. The nonunion workers, employed by cleaning companies that contract with Target, are organized under CTUL.
“What we want is the opportunity to change our lives for us and our families by raising our wages,” said Enrique Barcenas, who works for Prestige Barcenas. He lives in Farmington with his wife, three children and a niece and said he cannot provide health insurance for his household through his employer. “We’ve had to get to churches to get help with our health care.”
Organizer Brian Payne said “people are passing and responding positively” as they are handed fliers explaining the job action, the third of its type staged this year.
In response to the demonstration, Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said that “while we respect the rights of everyone to express their opinions, it is disappointing that [the workers group] has chosen this approach. We have had multiple conversations with the group over the past several months and have continually shared our commitment to maintaining the highest standards of ethical business practices and that we hold our vendors to that same standard.”
Snyder added that no Targets have experienced a walkout among maintenance workers and that store operations have been unaffected.
Minneapolis Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges voiced her support for workers in a statement she released through the group, which read, in part: “We all owe them a debt of gratitude. Now, low-wage workers are united in courage. They are determined to lift their wages above poverty levels and protect dignity and respect in the workplace.”
Nicole Norfleet and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482