A new survey of low-wage workers in the Twin Cities shows most live below the poverty level — including many who report that their employers have stolen their wages.
The report released Thursday by Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) provides the results of 173 surveys completed by workers in hotels, restaurants, manufacturing, construction, janitorial services and other industries. The surveys were provided to workers through community groups and by CTUL, a labor advocacy group, starting last year.
Among the findings: 80 percent of the survey takers — who make an average of $10.34 per hour — said they have to work at least two jobs to cover living expenses. About half of the people surveyed said they had experienced workplace wage theft by employers and 20 percent said they'd been injured on the job.
The survey also addressed two issues that have taken center stage in Minneapolis: paid sick leave and predictable scheduling. About a third of the respondents said their schedules rarely allow for time to sleep and 64 percent said they had worked while ill.
CTUL's report was released two days after the organization and several other labor groups led a strike by hourly workers from about 70 Twin Cities businesses. The workers marched through Minneapolis to City Hall, where they spoke in favor of a $15 minimum wage and new laws regarding wage theft, sick leave and scheduling.
Terin Mayer, an organizer with CTUL, said the survey is proof that the issues taken up in Minneapolis' proposed Working Families Agenda are real. The mayor and some council members proposed a plan that included citywide sick leave and sweeping new scheduling requirements, but tabled the scheduling proposal after business owners pushed back. The city is forming a new group to study sick leave and come up with a recommendation by February.
City leaders have also discussed tightening enforcement of employers who withhold wages from workers, but have not developed a specific new policy. Mayer said cracking down on wage theft is crucial for workers at the low end of the economic spectrum.
"A lot of what we're documenting is flat-out illegal," he said. "We want to encourage the discussion to include a vigorous debate about enforcement."
In a conference call with reporters, janitorial worker Marfa Malcolm recounted how she'd been promised paychecks for her work and then gone days, weeks and months without pay.
"After I asked for my pay, [my boss] began to threaten me," she said. "By that time, she owed me $1,200, and I knew right away she was doing something wrong."
Michele Garnett McKenzie, advocacy director for Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, said many immigrant workers don't know they are entitled to certain rights in the workplace. She said current enforcement systems put the burden on workers to spot problems, not on employers to keep up with the law.
"They are putting the burden on workers to complain, without adequate protection from retaliation," she said.
Erin Golden • 612-673-4790