Hundreds of people flocked to the Midway Walmart in St. Paul today, but it wasn’t deep discounts or door-buster deals they wanted. It was justice for workers who make the holiday season happen.
Black Friday protests in the Twin Cities took on a renewed vigor this year, as activists from labor, faith and community groups capped off a week of demonstrations calling out low-wage employers like Walmart and Target – and building momentum for a legislative push to raise the state’s minimum wage.
The protests began early this morning, when janitors who clean Target stores throughout the metro area went on strike. Picketing outside the company’s flagship store downtown Minneapolis drew more than 100 supporters.
The action then shifted to University Avenue in St. Paul. Demonstrators marched past Target and Walmart stores on their way to the Snelling Avenue intersection. As hundreds of supporters cheered from the sidewalk, 26 people linked arms and sat down in the middle of the intersection. They were arrested, one by one, in acts of civil disobedience.
Organizers estimated turnout for the march was 1,000 people. St. Paul Police shut down several blocks of University, Snelling and other streets to accommodate the large crowd.
Jessica English, a single mother and member of TakeAction Minnesota, was among those arrested for civil disobedience.
“I worked 15 years for poverty wages,” English said, adding that she and her child recently found themselves homeless. “I’m here today to fight to make sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
“These are the workers who make the holidays happen,” TakeAction member Cliff Martin said. “We fight in solidarity today to say no to poverty wages … and to say yes to dignity, yes to a living wage and yes to justice.”
The Target strike, organized by supporters of the non-union worker center CTUL, is the third walkout cleaning workers have staged in the last year.
“We hope it’s the last one, so they give us fair wages for our families,” said Enrique Barcenas, an employee of Prestige Maintenance who earns $8 per hour cleaning the Apple Valley Target.
He said 63 workers from 40 stores committed to participating in the one-day strike.
The workers are not employed by Target, but by several different cleaning contractors like Prestige. Barcenas said the contractors in recent years have driven down wages and increased workloads in an effort to win the “race to the bottom” for contracts with Target and other retailers.
“People made $10 or $12 per hour before, with six people cleaning each store,” Barcenas said. “But our wages have gone down, while our workload has gone up. That’s why we’ve been organizing for the last three years.”
Other highlights from the week of action include:
- One-day strike at Walmart in Brooklyn Center
- Prayer vigil upon the striking workers’ return
- Protest targeting a temp agency in St. Cloud
- Rally in support of airport workers organizing against poverty wages