The Minneapolis City Council last week approved funding for a study to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour as well as a proposed ordinance to help protect minimum-wage workers, including “predictability pay” for employees if their work schedule changes, cancels or shortens with less than 24 hours’ notice. The council’s actions may have been influenced by labor unrest at the downtown Twins stadium.
Stronger workplace protections and higher pay for minimum-wage workers in Minneapolis is badly needed, say supporters. But opponents, such as local business groups, either don’t want to provide such pay and protections or want them scaled down.
“All workers deserve dignity,” said Neighborhood Organizing for Change (NOC) Executive Director Anthony Newby last week in an MSR phone interview. His organization is part of a local and state coalition that supports the city council’s actions. All workers should “be paid a living wage…and be allowed to be part of the broader success of the city,” he said.
Yet he pointed out that these changes alone won’t eliminate the “two-tier economy” that exists in the city: “one economy [where] workers have access to steady jobs and get a regular paycheck, and…another economy that is highly racialized…a labor market, a pool of Black and Brown workers to be used as cheap labor. It is outrageous in a city this wealthy.”
The council’s actions came a couple of days after a group of Target Field temp workers held a rally outside the Twins’ downtown stadium prior to the team’s scheduled night game on September 23. One hundred and thirty-six temp workers, many of whom are Black, signed a petition calling for better working conditions at the ballpark.
“It is not a privilege to work there,” said Sondra Jones of Minneapolis, who after the rally talked to the MSR. She has worked at Twins games for two summers. “I feel they take our work and presence for granted,” she added.
A Delaware North Corporation (DNC) official, who wished not to speak on record, told the MSR that they haven’t seen the workers’ petition to comment on it. Newby said a meeting was scheduled for Monday, September 28 with DNC and Twins officials.
“[The] workers [came] to NOC” to discuss their working conditions at the ballpark, said the executive director. The workers’ four main complaints are: lack of advance notice to work, “wait lines” for work for sometimes up to four hours, payment by debit cards instead of paychecks, and low wages.
“It is low-income Black people waiting in line for these stadium jobs,” explained Newby, “and [they] essentially become ‘wage theft’ victims because they are not paid for that time at the ballpark” that they spend waiting around to see if they will get work.”
“Last summer we didn’t have to stand in line,” recalled Jones. “I went [to the park] three times this summer, stood in that line, [and] then the last 10 people [including herself] were told that they didn’t need us.”
“[There] is no reason why anybody is treated this way,” stated Newby.
Both Newby and Jones pointed to how costly debit cards can be: “People are charged $4-6 at an ATM, and these fees are compounded. We think that’s a huge problem,” said Newby.
“There are so many fees [that] it takes half of what we make,” added Jones, who makes $8 an hour.
Besides the low wages, Jones said she’s also bothered by the mistreatment she and other temp workers regularly receive at work. “The employees that work through DNC treat the temps like sh**. Half [of] the time we don’t even get a break.
“We are not allowed to sit or stand anywhere. DNC employees can go downstairs to the [stadium] breakroom, but we are required to stand in the back where the cooking is or in the storage [area] — no chairs.”
A three-year Black DNC worker, who spoke to the MSR on condition of animity, confirmed Jones’ assessment and reiterated that many DNC workers “do look down on” the temp workers. He added that many times the workers’ breaks come soon after they arrive at work “long before the gates are open.”
Many workers told NOC that they were recruited by temp agencies at fast-food restaurants on West Broadway in North Minneapolis. Even necessary paperwork, such as payroll sheets. are turned in there. Jones said the temp agency owner she works for reportedly told her “it was for convenience sake…to meet her at McDonald’s. Last year it was [at] Burger King. Nobody has ever been to [his] office.”
Newby said such temp agencies “are the bad apples that are preying on people because they know they need work, and [they] go to Black neighborhoods to try and recruit people for low pay.”
Jones said she and the temp workers get $6 meal vouchers at work. “The burgers are $8 to $13 dollars. We get paid $9 an hour. All we can get with the meal ticket is a small hot dog, or chips, or a pop — you can’t get all three.”
Newby said he hopes the meeting with DNC will be productive. “DNC and the Twins are able to fix this problem,” he said. “Our goal is to meet with them in the same room.”
When asked what she wants, Jones said, “We should get paid for the wait time,” adding that getting paid by check rather than debit cards with high user fees is also preferable.
Asked if she’d ever work at the Twins ballpark again, Jones replied, “In a time of desperate need, yes. Willingly, no.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.