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Hopeful that new leadership will be responsive to the needs of the workers and community
ST. PAUL (May 5, 2014): With news today of Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel’s resignation, community activists and workers from Minnesota are hopeful that the new leadership will act swiftly in critical ways that would improve not only Minnesota’s economy, but the daily lives of thousands of workers in our state – especially lower-wage workers of color.
Over the past ten years, there have been at least five federal multi-million dollar class action lawsuits alleging unpaid wages in the contracted cleaning of Target stores across the country. In 2013 Diversified Maintenance System’s, Target’s largest janitorial contractor that cleans over 600 Target stores around the country, paid $675,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by workers who clean Target stores in Minnesota alleging unpaid overtime pay. In March 2014, employees of Eurest Services who supervised the cleaning of Target and other stores in Minneapolis – St. Paul filed a new lawsuit alleging up to 35 hours per week of unpaid wages. Last year, retail janitors affiliated with Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) led three strikes calling for fair wages and the right to organize without fear of retaliation.
Enrique Barcenas, employee of Prestige Maintenance USA who cleans a Target store in the Minneapolis – St. Paul metro area and CTUL member stated:
“As Mr. Steinhafel is offered up to $26 million just to leave his job, we continue to work every evening cleaning Target stores trying to survive on sub-poverty wages. We are ready to take action this summer to make sure cleaning companies respect our right to fair wages. We hope the new interim president and chief executive officer, John Mulligan, will be more willing to listen to our concerns as we struggle to get out of poverty,”
At last year’s Target shareholders’ meeting, Steinhafel committed that members of his leadership team would engage in an ongoing dialogue with members of the Brooklyn Park community to discuss the community’s concerns that the company had not held up its agreement to community benefits and jobs in response to the large public subsidies it received from Brooklyn Park tax payers. Since that time, Target leaders have met with ISAIAH and Northwest Community Collaborative leaders to discuss these concerns and explore opportunities through which the company could partner with the organization to understand the diverse community’s growing needs for jobs, educational, health, and economic development opportunities.
ISAIAH NW Metro Chairperson, Joy Marsh Stephens, states:
“We are encouraged by the progress we’ve made with Target so far and want to see them continue their commitment to an ongoing partnership us. The community’s needs haven’t changed. We’re committed to continuing dialog and hope that Target remains committed to us.”
The original deal Target struck with the City of Brooklyn Park included amenities and new jobs that Target later re-negotiated when the economic recession hit. Target committed to construct three new buildings and create 1,500 jobs in exchange for an upfront $2.4 million subsidy and potential tax abatements up to $20. Target finished one building and created less than 500 jobs and then halted any new activity. In 2008, Target said it would not fulfill the other parts of the contract due to changes in the economy and better opportunities to expand in India. In 2011 the city entered into a revised contract to give Target a new $2 million upfront subsidy to construct an office building and resume its creation of the remaining 1,000 jobs it had committed to. However, instead of creating jobs, Target will be transferring existing jobs from downtown Minneapolis.
“Now that times are difficult for Target, we want to make sure that they don’t go back on their word the way they did last time,” said Denise Butler of Northwest Community Collaborative.
Minnesotans for a Fair Economy
Working to build a Minnesota where there is opportunity for everyone to work hard and get ahead.
Homeowners and Community Activists Travel to San Antonio, TX to Demand Accountability from Wells Fargo
Advocates will present shareholder resolution on mortgage servicing abuses at Wells Fargo shareholder meeting
ST. PAUL (April 29, 2014): For the second year in a row, Wells Fargo Bank moved its annual shareholder meeting outside of its hometown of San Francisco, California in a bid to avoid attention over its foreclosure, mortgage servicing and other predatory practices. Homeowners and community activists from Minnesota and across the country followed the bank to San Antonio, Texas to demand Wells Fargo stop abusive mortgage servicing, foreclosure, and other harmful practices.
Advocates will present a shareholder referendum at the shareholder meeting requiring Wells to conduct an independent review of the bank’s internal controls to ensure that its mortgage and foreclosure practices are not violating fair housing and fair lending laws. The referendum gained 21% of shareholder votes in 2013.
Emory Carter, an ISAIAH leader from Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in South Minneapolis, sends his message to San Antonio of his situation being steered into a high-interest rate refinancing of his mortgage when he qualified for a much better rate.
“I send my message to San Antonio because, unfortunately, major banks, including Wells Fargo, have a long history of denying credit to communities of color. As the 20th Century became the 21st, subprime loans were aggressively targeted to communities of color. And as we all know, these loans led to the foreclosure crisis and the subsequent drop in home values. Because of these lending practices, communities of color were disproportionately affected.” Carter continued, “As a person of faith, I believe in the inherent dignity of all God’s children; and that we are called to create healthy and vibrant communities that allow all people to thrive. We are here to call on Wells Fargo to take proactive steps to make right their action in the communities that were harmed by these practices – stripped of their wealth and now denied credit. We need transformative solutions to break this cycle of financial predation and starvation.”
Community organizations are also protesting the bank facilitating investments in private prison and immigrant detention centers through its mutual funds, and the bank up-selling costly bank products to new and existing customers, a practice recently exposed in an LA Times investigation. Advocates are also calling on the bank to provide affordable repayment plans for their customers who have direct deposit advance loans (similar to payday loans) and to stop financing payday and other high-cost, predatory lenders.
Paulina Gonzalez, Executive Director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, explained the need for the fair lending audit in the shareholder referendum: “Housing counselors across California who help homeowners avoid foreclosure cited Wells Fargo as the hardest servicer to work with for a second year in a row. Communities of color are especially impacted by bad loan servicing, as documented by a new GAO report, which found differences in outcomes relating to trial modifications, cancelations and re-default rates for Limited English Proficient and African American borrowers.”
Peter Skillern, Executive Director of Reinvestment Partners, based in Durham, North Carolina added: “Reinvestment Partners’ experience as a housing counseling agency is the basis for our demand of Wells Fargo to improve its mortgage services. Single point of contacts often do not return phone calls and we have not had a single client who has had principle reduction in a loan modification. We support an independent audit of Wells Fargo’s mortgage servicing operations.”
Josh Zinner, co-director of New Economy Project, based in New York City, explained: “Wells Fargo was the most profitable U.S. bank in 2013, and has received hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts and tax subsidies. Meanwhile, the bank’s abusive mortgage servicing practices continue to cause harm to families and communities across the country, particularly in communities of color. Wells Fargo must be held accountable.”
Josh Zinner, New Economy Project: 718-290-6389 email@example.com
Peter Skillern, Reinvestment Partners: 919-667-4201 firstname.lastname@example.org
Laquita Garcia, Texas Organizing Project: 972-342-5116 email@example.com
Kevin Whelan, Home Defenders League: 612–414-9731 firstname.lastname@example.org
(Kevin can speak to the 20 similar events happening around the country)
Minnesotans for a Fair Economy
Working to build a Minnesota where there is opportunity for everyone to work hard and get ahead.
Ali provides wheelchair and cart service to disabled passengers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as an employee of Air Serv, a contractor for the airlines. He earns $7.25 an hour with no health insurance or other benefits.
“Most of us work two jobs to make a living,” said Ali, who joined with other airport workers for a demonstration Friday on the mezzanine above the Lindbergh Terminal’s ticket and security counters.
Airlines will post record earnings this year and North American carriers will be the most profitable, generating some $8.3 billion in earnings, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Profits have soared as airlines merge, limiting competition and creating a few giant carriers, including Delta Airlines, which operates the majority of the flights in and out of Minnesota. Carriers also have laid off thousands of workers to cut costs, the Transport Association said.
Profits for the few, however, have come at the expense of the many. The airlines’ strategy is dependent on outsourcing many services to cut-rate contractors. Today, more than 600 workers at MSP are employed by these outside companies to clean planes, handle baggage and transport passengers in and around the terminals. They earn poverty wages with no benefits.
“Fifteen years ago, most of these jobs here in the airport were good union jobs and workers here made over $17 an hour,” said Greg Nammacher, secretary-treasurer of Service Employees International Union Local 26. “It’s time people can actually support their families on these jobs.”
The airport workers are trying to organize with Local 26 and are conducting numerous actions to call attention to their working conditions.
At least one Metropolitan Airports Commission member is listening. Commissioner Erica Prosser, newly appointed by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, joined workers at Friday’s demonstration.
“We have a world class airport here. It is an economic driver for the state of Minnesota and all the region,” Prosser said. “It should be a great place for everybody, including the workers.
“I’m hoping to find a way for the MAC to have a role” in addressing the low wages paid to Ali and other airport workers, she said.
Friday’s action came as the Minnesota Legislature considers raising the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.
(From Workday Minnesota)
The hearing room was packed as several dozen supporters and opponents testified before the conference committee, which must reconcile a House bill that raises the minimum to $9.50 an hour and a Senate bill that would increase it to $7.75.
Advocates said $9.50 – while a huge step forward from the state’s current minimum of $6.15 an hour – would still leave some people in poverty.
Cantaré Davunt of Duluth has worked at Walmart for nearly five years. A college graduate, Davunt only makes $8.05 per hour and has been unable to find a better job in today’s economy.
For her, “$9.50 isn’t really a livable wage, but it’s better than what I have now.” An increase would help pay off her student loans, Davunt noted.
Other workers described working two or three jobs and having little time to spend with their children.
Kris Jacobs, executive director of the JOBS NOW Coalition, said new data shows a worker in Hennepin County would need to earn $18.53 an hour to cover food, housing and other basic needs for a family of four. In Blue Earth County, the figure needed to cover basic needs is $13.74 an hour.
“I ask that you keep these numbers in mind,” Jacobs told the lawmakers.
Marching on Walmart
Earlier on Thursday, miles away from the state Capitol, a group of single mothers marched in sub-zero temperatures to a Walmart store in Brooklyn Center. They called on the company to pay living wages to its employees and enact family-friendly policies to lift women and their children out of poverty.
Two out of three minimum wage workers are women, nearly four of 10 are women of color – and these women are disproportionately single mothers.
The demonstrators included Jacquita Berens, a single mother of three, who is a full-time student and works two full-time jobs. She is not a Walmart employee but has family and friends who work minimum wage jobs at the giant retailer.
“I and many others like me are working hard, long shifts daily, away from our children and families yet receive no benefits,” Berens said. “As employees, we’re constantly put in situations where we’re forced to choose whether to care for our sick children or lose our jobs. Poverty wages just aren’t right.”
Marchers also called on Walmart to stop retaliatory practices against workers for speaking out for better pay and working conditions. In particular, Thursday’s event spotlighted April Williams, whom Walmart fired earlier in the week after participating in a one-day strike last November at the Brooklyn Center store.
On Wednesday, Target was in the spotlight for the low wages paid to the workers who clean its stores. Demonstrators marched through the downtown Minneapolis skyways and walked silently, fists raised, through the Nicollet Mall Target store.
“I am a single mother of five children trying to get by on the $8 an hour I am paid to clean a Target store,” said Maricela Flores. “It must be difficult for the CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel, to understand what it is like to be paid such low wages. In 2012 Mr. Steinheffel made over $9,900 an hour – he does not have to live the constant reality of choosing between paying rent, food, clothes, healthcare, etc.
“We are calling on Mr. Steinheffel to take the ‘Working America Minimum Wage Challenge’and live on $7.25 an hour for one week to understand what we face.”
Opponents seek tip penalty
Back at the Capitol, opponents argued the minimum wage was mainly paid to teenagers and college students “learning basic job skills.”
They focused much of their testimony on the fact that Minnesota is one of only seven states that do not allow employers to substitute customer tips for wages. In Wisconsin, for example, servers and other tipped employees may be paid as little as $2.33 an hour, with the rest of their compensation coming from tips.
Lobbyists for the restaurant industry urged lawmakers to adopt language in the final minimum wage bill that would allow this “tip credit,” which supporters of a higher minimum wage refer to as a “tip penalty.”
Several members of the faith community spoke out in support of a higher wage, saying it was a moral issue.
The Rev. Eliot Howard of the Linden Hills United Church of Christ related the story of a 22-year-old father who is raising his two-year-old daughter essentially on his own, as his wife is suffering from a mental illness.
The young man earns $7.80 an hour. The family survives, in part, because of the church-run food shelf and other assistance. Occasionally, Howard said, he is able to give the young father an extra $20 to buy diapers.
“I’m speaking on his behalf and on behalf of all the other minimum wage workers who can’t be here,” he said.
The conference committee is scheduled to reconvene Friday to hear more testimony.
(From Workday Minnesota)
Retail cleaning workers and other supporters of raising the state’s minimum wage march in silence through the Target downtown Minneapolis.
One day after a rally in support of raising Minnesota’s minimum wage rocked the Capitol rotunda, nearly 100 activists took their message to the skyways of Minneapolis, calling on Target and other corporations to join the fight against poverty wages.
The lunch-hour march yesterday snaked through the skyways and into Target’s flagship store. Inside, demonstrators silenced their drums, noisemakers and chants and walked through the aisles with their fists raised in quiet solidarity.
The Capitol rally and skyway march are part of a week of action in support ofraising the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015 and indexing the wage to ensure it keeps pace with inflation.
State lawmakers will begin hearings on a minimum-wage bill today, and activists intend to keep building momentum with events across the metro. Single mothers in Brooklyn Center will call on Walmart to back a wage hike today, and workers will rally against poverty wages at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport tomorrow.
“We talked to the Legislature yesterday, but we also know we need to talk to the corporations who are responsible for keeping wages as low as they are,” Veronica Mendez told activists before the skyway march.
Mendez is an organizer with CTUL, the Twin Cities worker center that has given a voice to non-union workers employed by subcontractors to clean Target and other big-box stores. The workers say their wages have plunged and working conditions worsened in recent years, as Target cut costs by squeezing their employers, the cleaning contractors.
“I’ve been working in cleaning for almost 10 years and have only gotten one raise during that time, to my current rate of $9 per hour,” said Jose Cabrera, an employee of Carlson Maintenance who cleans a Target store. “This isn’t enough. I have a wife, two daughters and a new granddaughter, all of whom depend on me. My low wage requires me to have two jobs, which means I constantly miss out on time with my family just so we can scrape by.”
Cabrera and other CTUL activists staged three strikes last year, erecting picket lines outside area Target stores. And for the last six weeks, CTUL members have been holding “Fair Wage Wednesday” demonstrations outside Target’s corporate headquarters.
But cleaning workers aren’t the only ones who would benefit from a minimum-wage hike. The average pay for Target’s frontline staff ranges from $8.10 per hour for cashiers to $8.34 per hour for “team members” on the sales floor.
And those wages come at a high cost to the state’s taxpayers, according to a report released last November. It estimates 5,850 Target workers in Minnesota access public assistance at an annual public cost of $44.7 million.
“Corporations like Target and our elected officials in St. Paul have the power to raise wages for Minnesota workers, which will help families and stimulate our economy,” said Leroy Graham, a Target cleaning worker employed by Diversified. “The time for waiting is over. We need to raise the wage.”
At a time when things have never been better for a select few, things have never been worse for many workers in Minnesota. While corporations like Target and Walmart make record profits and pay their CEOs lavish salaries, the workers who make their profits happen during the holidays are falling further and further behind. In the quest for more and more profits, corporations are putting the squeeze on workers, the result of which is a future of work that is increasingly part-time with no benefits and poverty wages. The wages are so low that taxpayers are on the hook for billions of dollars per year to subsidize the low wages paid by these highly profitable corporations for items like food stamps and Medicaid for their workers.
Black Friday weekend, with $20 billion in spending during the weekend in 2012, is the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Workers and allies aligned with Minnesotans for a Fair Economy chose Thanksgiving week to highlight the inequities in the wages of workers who make holiday travel, shopping and more happen in Minnesota.
This Black Friday Week of Action connected various worker-led actions across Minnesota, calling on corporations and state legislators to end poverty wages in Minnesota. From worker strikes in Brooklyn Center & Minneapolis to protests in St. Cloud & Duluth to a large march on Black Friday in St. Paul, the week saw struggling workers bravely stand up to demand fair wages and a voice in the workplace along with an increase in the state minimum wage. Members of faith, labor and community organizations stood shoulder to shoulder with these workers in support of their call for dignity and respect in the workplace, understanding that the extraction of wealth from our communities by big corporations affects us all.
Please find below a recap of each action along with press coverage during Minnesota for a Fair Economy’s Black Friday Week of Action to End Poverty Wages in Minnesota.
On Sunday and Monday, local think-tank Minnesota 2020 released their annual Buy Local report. The report highlighted questions that shoppers should ask themselves when deciding where to spend their money, including whether an establishment pays at least $9.50 an hour and provides benefits to their workers. The report was released at various small businesses around the state that were lifted up as doing right by their employees.
See all of the press clips HERE.
On Monday workers from the Brooklyn Center Walmart were joined by Representative Keith Ellison as they walked off the job for a one-day ULP strike. The associates were joined by Rep. Ellison and faith leaders as they told their manager that they were speaking out for fair wages and the ability to express concerns without the fear of retaliation. Strikers spoke outside the store surrounded by community supporters who picketed to highlight the low wages at Walmart.
See all press clips HERE.
Great Minnesota Worker Center Protest 11/26
The recently formed Greater Minnesota Worker Center highlighted their growing strength by rallying in protest outside of Work Connection, a St. Cloud temp agency. The agency was highlighted, along with other temp agencies in the area, for their poor treatment of workers. Workers from the Greater Minnesota Worker Center and supporters led a delegation into the agency after the protest to call on Work Connection to treat their workers with respect.
See all of the press clips HERE.
Airport workers who are paid poverty wages despite doing important jobs like transporting seniors and passengers with disabilities and cleaning planes came together Wednesday in an effort to Bring Dignity Back to MSP. The workers, looking to organize with SEIU Local 26, held a press conference with Representative Keith Ellison and other supporters before silently marching through the terminal with signs calling to end poverty wages and ending the event with a protest outside of the terminal, all on the busiest travel day of the year.
See all of the press clips HERE.
Black Friday began at 5:30 a.m. as retail cleaning workers employed by contractors to clean stores like Target went on an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) strike. Cleaners from over 40 stores in the Twin Cities area, organizing with the worker center Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), walked off the job and picketed with allies in front of Target’s flagship downtown Minneapolis store. The strike came after calling on the cleaning companies to guarantee fair wages and the right to organize without fear of retaliation and not getting a response.
After the CTUL picket line in Minneapolis ended, worker and allies from all of the week’s campaigns joined together in St. Paul for a march to end poverty wages. Hundreds marched by Target and Walmart before 26 Minnesotans participated in non-violent civil disobedience to highlight the urgency of giving workers a raise and ending poverty wages in Minnesota.
See all of the press clips HERE.
On Sunday and Monday local think-tank Minnesota 2020 released their annual Buy Local report. The report highlighted questions that shoppers should ask themselves when deciding where to spend their money, including whether an establishment pays at least $9.50 an hour and provides benefits to their workers. The report was released at various small businesses around the state that were lifted up as doing right by their employees.
Group urges holiday buyers to shop local
Twin Cities Daily Planet
Made in Minnesota 2013: Fair retail wages strengthen local economies
Business Owners Ask Minnesotans to Shop Locally During Holidays
Fox 21 Duluth
Minnesota 2020: Shopping Local Can Help Raise Wage
MN Group To Black Friday Shoppers: Visit Retailers Who Pay Living Wage
WDIO ABC Duluth
Minn. Think Tank: Do Your Holiday Shopping Locally