Thanksgiving is a time to appreciate the plenty that our state and country provide to so many of us. Minnesota has a nation-leading economy in a world-leading nation. But we should also acknowledge that many of our holiday celebrations depend on Minnesotans who work hard but barely make enough to get by.

At the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, the workers who drive the carts, push the wheelchairs and generally keep things moving make minimum wage — even after years on the job. This holiday, those workers will put in a lot of hours to get travelers to their destinations and in return, they barely scrape by. Thank you, airport workers. We need you to make it to grandmother’s house, and the airlines can afford to pay you a living wage.

In retail stores throughout Minnesota, workers will put in long hours over the next few months. But even during this cold and flu season, if they or a family member gets sick, they must still show up to work or go without a paycheck. Paid sick leave, and many of the other basic benefits that many of us take for granted, is simply not a reality for these workers. Thank you, retail workers. We count on your hard work and you should be able to earn the time you need to get healthy.

In fast-food restaurants, workers will provide meals to shoppers on the go but are wondering how they will be able to celebrate the holidays with their own families. Workers do not know from one week to the next when or if they will be working, making it next to impossible to arrange for child care or to plan for time with their families. And these workers preparing our food are also forced to choose between working sick or losing a paycheck. Thank you, fast-food workers. You help us eat on the go, and you should have predictable schedules and time to spend with your families.

Late at night, after so many of us have gone home from the big-box stores, janitors show up to clean up the mess the rest of us leave behind. Most of these workers are not employed by the stores themselves, but by contractors hired to do the cleaning. These workers rarely see a raise, often see their wages stolen and usually have no recourse because their employer does not run the store where they work. Thank you, retail janitors. You make our shopping experience clean and pleasant, and our favorite stores should require that their cleaning contractors treat you fairly.

On Black Friday, these and many more low-wage workers will raise their voices to call for livable wages and decent benefits. We should listen to them. They are not asking for your pity or your charity. They are organizing themselves to push for better treatment from their employers. They are raising awareness around the hard reality that 40 percent of all jobs in Minnesota pay less than a living wage. They are insisting on the right to earn paid sick leave, so workers do not have to choose between feeding their families and showing up sick at work or leaving a sick child at home alone.

Low-wage workers are organizing, mobilizing and insisting on better treatment because it makes a difference. Earlier this year, an organization of workers calling themselves CTUL succeeded in a yearslong push to make Target agree that the janitors cleaning their stores should not be subject to contractors that harass them for organizing a union, illegally dock their pay, or deny them the protection of health and safety laws. Through organizing strikes, demonstrations and perseverance, CTUL’s members won tangible gains in their workplace. These workers demonstrated that when low-wage workers organize, they can have a voice in the workplace.

So this Thanksgiving, we owe Minnesota’s low-wage workers a debt of gratitude for making our favorite holiday celebrations possible. We should also thank them for reminding us that our economy needs to change and that it can change, if people speak up and start demanding better. We should support the low-wage workers who are standing up for all of us — because a decent life is a fair reward for hard work.

 

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, is a member of the Minnesota House.