A long day of coordinated rallies for a $15 minimum wage ended as it began, with a spirited demonstration on the street in front of a McDonald’s restaurant.
About 150 wage protesters marched from Coffman Union on the University of Minnesota campus to Dinkytown on Tuesday evening, rallying outside the McDonald’s restaurant at SE. 4th Street and 15th Avenue SE. There were no arrests at the evening event but plenty of signs, chants, hip-hop and dedication.
Steven Suffridge, 41, of Minneapolis, told the crowd he was one of 21 people arrested in the predawn hours Tuesday when about 250 people showed up at a McDonald’s at Nicollet Avenue S. and W. 24th Street in Minneapolis, chanting, waving banners and pushing for boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He was at the evening protest, too, rallying the crowd with cries of “We are brothers today!”
Suffridge said he makes $9.50 an hour working at another McDonald’s on the overnight shift.
“I’m a check away from being homeless,” he said, adding that he has nerve damage to his feet because of standing so long. “Some nights we don’t even get a break.”
He was out in the cold and drizzle because, “As a people we deserve this. People in society need this so they can have a steppingstone for their children,” he said.
Irene Duranczyk, 68, of Minneapolis, came to the protest “because I support the fight for $15.” She called a higher minimum wage “a quality of life” issue that touches “every segment of society.”
“It’s not about me,” she said. “It’s about us.”
The protesters at 24th and Nicollet were arrested after sitting down in the street to block traffic, Minneapolis police spokesman Scott Seroka said. None resisted arrest and all were immediately released. Police estimated the number of protesters at closer to 135.
By late morning, protesters had moved to a Kohl’s store inside Eden Prairie Center. Janitors who work for Kohl’s are asking for a Responsible Contractor Policy that would provide good-paying jobs with benefits such as sick days and the right to form a union, said Veronica Mendez Moore, co-director of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), which organized the demonstrations.
“We are here to send the message that they can do the right thing,” said CTUL spokeswoman Stephanie Gasca, noting that more than 600 janitors who work for stores such as Target and Macy’s in the Twin Cities just won the right to unionize and are negotiating their first contract. “This is something that is desperately needed.”
The actions were part of the “Day of Resistance for $15 and Union Rights” put on locally by CTUL.
Similar events were being held in about 340 cities across the nation Tuesday.
“We had a lot of support; it’s crazy — these early-morning rallies draw big crowds,” Gasca said. “We’ve been involved in this movement for almost two years. It’s time to pass $15 an hour now.”
The push for $15 an hour has been a hot-button issue for months. Last summer a Hennepin County district judge ruled that a wage-raising measure should go on a Minneapolis citywide ballot on Election Day. That ruling later was reversed by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Kohl’s locked out the protesters as they neared the Eden Prairie store. About 100 cleaners wearing Santa hats sang holiday carols modified with lyrics supporting workers’ rights as they marched through the mall outside the entrance to Kohl’s.
No one from Kohl’s management addressed the group, and calls to Kohl’s in Eden Prairie seeking comment were referred to the store manager, who was unavailable for comment.
“We hope they listen to our voices and understand the important work we do,” said Luciano Balbuena, a CTUL member who has worked for six years for Kimco Services, the company that employs janitors who clean Kohl’s stores. The Richfield father of three who was outside Kohl’s said, “If I make $15 an hour, that would change life tremendously. I’d be able to provide a better life for my family. They refuse to talk to us, but we won’t let any obstacle get in our way. We will win.”
Earlier in the darkness, Balbuena was one of hundreds who rallied outside the south Minneapolis McDonald’s to draw attention to their cause.