In more than a decade working as a security officer, Romisha Jones has watched her co-workers struggle to make ends meet — or just afford a place to live.
“We protect some of the richest buildings,” said Jones, who works in downtown Minneapolis but lives in St. Paul. “And you would think that we would be able to have a safety net to go home to, to relax our head just like the owner does.”
Jones was among dozens of security officers, janitors and union organizers who marched through the downtown St. Paul skyway to City Hall on Monday afternoon to draw attention to workers’ experiences with wage theft and unpaid sick time.
The Legislature passed a law this year that makes wage theft a felony, and both St. Paul and Minneapolis require employers to offer paid sick time, but workers say they’re still working while sick or not being paid their full earnings.
Joining the demonstrators was Rep. Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul, who is running for state Senate. She said there’s “a tremendous amount of work to do” at the state level to protect workers, including raising the state minimum wage.
“I think when people go to work they should expect to earn a wage that supports their families,” Murphy said, “and they should expect conditions that are predictable and reliable so that they can do their jobs and live their lives and be with their families.”
The demonstration was organized by SEIU Local 26 and coincided with union contract negotiations and an ongoing legal fight with Madison Equities, downtown St. Paul’s largest private property owner.
In October, SEIU released a statement and posted fliers saying Madison Equities avoided paying overtime wages by having security guards submit their hours to separate companies. Madison Equities sued the SEIU and former security officer Chris Lewis, saying that the wage theft allegations were false and defamatory.
“This is why having unions is so important, and the fact that this could have happened to any one of us,” Lewis told the crowd gathered in front of City Hall.
Lewis filed a retaliation complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office, which served Madison Equities and related LLCs with a civil investigative demand related to the wage theft allegations in October. Attorneys for Madison Equities responded with a motion for a protective order.
Ramsey County Judge Sara Grewing took the issue under advisement after a hearing last week.