Protesters to Best Buy: ‘Get out of the way so we can have justice’

Protesters demonstrate outside Best Buy's annual shareholder meeting.

Protesters demonstrate outside Best Buy’s annual shareholder meeting.


RICHFIELD – Inside and outside of Best Buy’s annual shareholders meeting today, Minnesotans called on the corporation to stop using its political clout to block policies that improve working families’ lives.

That includes proposed legislation in Minnesota that would provide workers and their families with the stability and security they need to ensure a healthy work-life balance – policies opposed by lobbying groups Best Buy helps fund.

Best Buy plays “an important role in the Chamber of Commerce and other business associations that have been opposing legislation that supports workers’ rights to take care of their families,” Veronica Mendez Moore, an organizer with the Twin Cities worker Center CTUL, told about 100 demonstrators at a rally outside the shareholders meeting.

CTUL, which has been supporting janitors’ campaign to improve wages and working conditions maintained by cleaning contractors that service big-box retailers, organized the protest with faith groups, labor unions and progressive organizations working to build support at the Capitol for basic worker benefits and protections.

The Working Parents Act, introduced by House DFLers last session and backed by labor, stalled after drawing swift opposition from the Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Retailer’s Association, another Best Buy-led lobbying outfit. The bill pulled together initiatives seeking to crack down on employers who commit wage theft, require fairness in employee scheduling and guarantee workers access to earned sick time and paid family leave.

Leticia Zuniga describes what happened as a delegation of workers and their supporters met with Best Buy executives during the shareholder meeting.

Leticia Zuniga describes what happened as a delegation of workers and their supporters met with Best Buy executives during the shareholder meeting.

Too many of the jobs created during the current economic recovery don’t provide those benefits, janitor Hilario DeLeon told the crowd through a translator.

“Where I work we have no benefits at all,” DeLeon said. “We want to be able to have vacation. We want to be able to have paid sick days.”

DeLeon has cleaned the Target in downtown Minneapolis for seven years, and he said conditions deteriorate as contractors, looking to offer big-box retailers the lowest bid, seek new ways to cut costs. If Best Buy won’t agree to hold contractors to higher standards, he said, the company should at least stop using its clout at the Capitol to oppose raising the floor for everyone.

“We know that Best Buy has been getting in the way of our efforts,” DeLeon said. “We want Best Buy to get out of the way so we … can have justice.”

As protesters rallied outside, a delegation of activists gained access to Best Buy’s shareholder meeting by holding stock in the company or acting as a supportive shareholder’s proxy. Leticia Zuniga, a janitor and CTUL member who cleans Herberger’s, said a three Best Buy executives met with the delegation privately as well.

“We talked a lot about the problems there are in this industry: the rampant wage theft, workers not getting paid on time or with pay stubs, not knowing what hours they’re getting paid for,” Zuniga said. “We asked Best Buy to sign a responsible contractor policy, and they said they’d get back to us in a month.”

Ironically, the janitors who will clean up after today’s shareholders meeting are union members who enjoy many of the benefits workers inside Best Buy’s stores are fighting to win.

Ricardo Chavez, a member of the Service Employees International Union who works inside the corporate headquarters, joined the protest. He earns a fair wage with good benefits, predictable scheduling and access to paid sick days.

“But I know my brothers and sisters that work cleaning Best Buy’s stores right next door don’t have access to any of these benefits,” Chavez said. “Thousands of workers all over the state do not have access to these benefits, and all of us deserve them.”

Indeed, about 1 million workers in Minnesota do not have access to paid sick and safe time to care for themselves or their family members, TakeAction Minnesota Director Dan McGrath said, yet policies requiring employers to provide sick days are generally popular among voters.

“These corporations are created for people to make money,” Pastor Doug Mork of Cross of Glory Lutheran Church said. “They shouldn’t be cutting back our democratic voice.”

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