Calling for a $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, predictable scheduling and better treatment from employers, hundreds of hourly workers and labor advocates marched through Minneapolis on Tuesday, ending their protest with a two-hour demonstration at City Hall.
Michael McDowell, an organizer with the labor group Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), stood on the marble steps in the City Hall rotunda, rallying the crowd.
"This is a great place to raise a family," he said.
"If you're white!" interjected a protester.
"If you're white — that's right," McDowell said. "Workers are saying they won't take it anymore. They want equity. They want justice."
The protests were held in sync with a larger strike of hourly workers in dozens of cities across the country, and local organizers said workers walked out of about 70 Minneapolis businesses on Tuesday morning.
The demonstrators in Minneapolis pointed to both the national campaign for a higher minimum wage and the local battle that has erupted over a slate of workplace reforms proposed — and then paused — by the mayor and council.
It was the third time in recent months that workers' groups have descended on City Hall to call for higher wages and other benefits. Each time, the message has been the same: better pay and benefits will help erase gaps between the rich and poor, and white and minority workers.
Speakers pointed to the City Council's recent decision to scale back a set of changes known as the Working Families Agenda. A plan that initially included sweeping scheduling requirements and paid sick leave for all Minneapolis businesses was withdrawn after getting considerable pushback from business owners.
The sick leave proposal continues to move forward, although its pace has slowed. The council is forming a new, 15-member work group that will come up with a recommendation by February. Mayor Betsy Hodges has said she does not support a citywide minimum wage increase, but the council has approved funding for a study of how such an increase could affect the local economy.
Some in the crowd said they were upset with city leaders who had courted their votes with "buzzwords" like "equity" — and then not voted for the workplace laws.
Hermelinda Juares, a fast food worker for the past 13 years, said she wants to see workers be able to earn sick leave and vacation time, along with a bigger paycheck. She said she's confident those changes will happen because of the number of people pushing for them and the "strength" the movement has shown.