As momentum for $15 builds in St. Paul, so does concern over corporate interference

Earlier this month Kiara Ivy stepped outside the hardware store in St. Paul where she works as a cashier, and found an organizer waiting for her with a clipboard and a question.

Would she support raising St. Paul’s minimum wage to $15?

Ivy, who earns $9.65 an hour, didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“I had heard a lot of talk about raising the minimum wage, but didn’t know it was happening here,” she said. “I tend not to get my hopes up a lot, but it sounds so nice.”

Ivy was one of 539 low-wage workers who signed up to support a $15 minimum wage during a five-day organizing blitz earlier this month. It’s given the 15 Now campaign a jolt of momentum – and an even deeper well of public support – as the issue moves up the city’s agenda.

Working America’s Alisa Tennessen, who coordinated the blitz, said it also provided a glimpse of who is working for poverty wages in the capital city, as many supporters filled out surveys on what $15 would mean for themselves and their families.

“The answers are heartbreaking,” Tennessen said, noting “an astonishingly high number of people who talked about food – healthier food, more food, more food for their families.”

Ivy, in fact, met with a reporter on her way home from the food shelf. The 18-year-old shares a one-bedroom apartment in St. Paul with her mom and a roommate, chipping in $100 a month for rent and $50 each week for food, despite working only 25 hours per week.

Raising the wage to $15 in St. Paul, she said, would “mean I could finally move out on my own and still be able to help my mom out.”

Local elected officials in St. Paul, including Mayor Melvin Carter, have signaled support for giving workers like Ivy a raise. City Council President Amy Brendmoen said in February the plan is to “have an ordinance in front of us by fall.”

By that time, however, St. Paul may no longer have the authority to pass its own minimum-wage law.

As they did last year, corporate special interests and Republicans in the Legislature are trying to pull the rug out from under Ivy and other workers fighting for $15, pushing a bill that would bar local governments from raising employment standards in their communities – and strip newly won earned sick and safe time benefits from 150,000 working people in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the local preemption measure last year, but Republican majorities in the House and Senate have quietly brought it back to life this legislative session.

Brad Lehto, chief of staff for the Minnesota AFL-CIO, said one of Republicans’ first moves after the 2018 session began was to send the preemption bill (House File 600) back into conference committee.

“Whenever they see fit, they will convene the committee and pass it back to the House and Senate, where it already passed once,” he said. “Will they do that? I would think so. When? I think late in the session.”

Lehto and other Capitol observers anticipate the GOP will try to use preemption as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the governor.

Earlier this month, as 15 Now activists fanned out across the city during the organizing blitz, union groups like the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation began holding phone banks, connecting union members statewide with Gov. Dayton to urge him to stand firm on protecting local control again this year. [Click here to find a phone bank near you.]

Unions aren’t alone in the fight, either. Lehto said nearly 80 Minnesota cities have passed resolutions supporting local control.

“We’ve told (lawmakers) over and over, if you would pass a higher minimum wage, if you would pass paid family leave, if you would pass earned sick and safe time, then we wouldn’t have to do this on the local level,” he added.

As debate over the minimum wage and local control plays out this spring, Ivy will begin work at a second job as a personal-care attendant, earning about $12 per hour. (Roughly a quarter of St. Paul workers surveyed by 15 Now work two jobs to make ends meet.)

For Ivy, it means more money to help pay the bills, but less time to pursue her long-term goals – a car of her own, a college degree and a life in New York.

“I want to be in New York, and I want to be a psychiatrist,” she said. “I dream about it, but I haven’t started anything yet.” Earning $15, she added, “would help me to save more to get there.”

Trackbacks

  1. […] Still, St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper warned the tip penalty is just one piece of a broader corporate agenda Republicans are pushing at the Capitol. Another piece of the agenda: preempting local control. […]

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