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.
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.
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.”
Speakers pointed to the City Council’s recent decision to scale back a set of reforms known as the Working Families Agenda. A plan that initially included sweeping scheduling requirements and paid sick leave for all Minneapolis businesses was tabled after getting considerable push back from business owners.
The sick leave proposal continues to move forward, though on a slower track. The council is currently forming a new, 15-member work group that will come up with a recommendation by February. Appointments to the committee will be made from a field of 77 applicants.
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 impact the local economy.
Guillermo Lindsay, a Roseville McDonalds employee who was one of those on strike Tuesday, said smaller increases don’t do enough. Lindsay said he’s worked in fast food for 12 years and wants to see big corporations like his employer do more to share their profits with the lowest-paid workers. Currently, he makes $9.25 per hour.
An increase to $15, he said, was the least they could do: “$7.25, $8.25 even $9.25 doesn’t help pay the bills anymore,” he said.
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.
Kandace Montgomery, an organizer with Black Lives Matter, urged people in the crowd to run for office.
“You have to do more than just say stuff on Facebook and social media,” she said.
David Wiester, who works in surgical support at a hospital, said he has a good job and good benefits, thanks to his union. But he said it was important for him to stand alongside with people who don’t have as much.
“I’ve been part of the working poor,” he said. “I believe they have the right to make a good living.”
Hermelinda Juares, a fast food worker for the last 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.
Near the end of the demonstration, after a march through City Hall, several speeches and a musical performance, Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP urged the protesters to return.
“You have to keep coming back to City Hall,” she said. “Don’t let them shut you down. If anything, it’s up to us to shut down business as usual.”