Faith leaders from Minneapolis today called on elected officials to begin addressing Minnesota’s alarming racial disparities by guaranteeing all workers access to earned sick and safe time.
“This is exactly what systemic racism looks like: reasonable people who say, ‘Our hands are tied … because it’s just too costly to change our system,’” Rev. Laurie Eaton of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church said. “Minneapolis, we are better than that.”
The Twin Cities and Minnesota as a whole have ranked poorly in terms of the economic gaps between whites and minorities, with a recent study naming Minneapolis the third-worst place to live for African Americans.
Similar disparities play out in the numbers regarding who enjoys earned sick time. More than half of the estimated 245,000 Minneapolis workers without access to the benefit are non-white, including 62 percent of Latino workers and 51 percent of black workers in the city.
“People are suffering, trying to decide whether to buy medicine or buy groceries,” Rev. Billy G. Russel of Greater Friendship Baptist Church said. “Something’s got to happen.”
Earned sick time remains a plank in the embattled Working Families Agenda that Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and several allies on the City Council still support. But corporations are stepping up the pressure on officials to back off, and the state’s largest newspaper recently dismissed the measure as “anti-business” and “naïve.”
Rabbi Michael Latz of Shir Tikvah Synagogue called on elected officials, editorial writers and business leaders – “people who shower before work, not after,” he said – to “exercise your moral courage” on earned sick time, which he called “a great moral issue of our generation.”
Rev. Paul Slack, pastor at New Creation Church and president of the faith-based social justice organization ISAIAH, urged city council members to listen to the concerns of their constituents, not just corporations.
“We have protected companies, corporations by giving them community benefits,” Slack said. “Now let’s give a benefit to people who work in those jobs. Let’s protect our low-wage earners. Let’s protect their children and their families.”
The clergy members spoke at a press conference on the steps of Minneapolis City Hall before visiting council members individually to urge action on the issue.