If you have caught the news over the last couple weeks, you probably noticed a surge in stories about worker-led movements on the rise here in Minnesota.
On Aug. 26, home care workers announced a historic victory in the largest union election in state history. Last Thursday, fast food workers in Minnesota went on strike for the first time, joining a national movement calling for $15 per hour and union rights.
Ours are two separate campaigns, but workers are united in our struggles to make ends meet for our families. We are united in our understanding that our economy’s priorities are upside-down, that working families in Minnesota deserve far better, and that workers can only win real change by standing up and fighting.
We hear too many stories from our fellow workers about fathers who hold two or three jobs, rarely see their kids, and yet are still struggling to put food on the table. We hear too many stories about mothers who put love and care into both their jobs and their families, yet still have to rely on the state for food stamps because they are paid poverty wages.
Our struggles are intertwined. In many cases, home care workers end up picking up a second job at a fast-food restaurant, and vice-versa, just to scrape together enough to support their families. It is just plain wrong for people who work full time (or much more than that, as so many of us do) to live in poverty. It’s just plain wrong for our employers to disregard our voices and treat us as though we were invisible – especially when you consider how many of us “invisible” workers are people of color, when nearly all of our employers are white.
If you are not a low-wage worker, you may wonder, “Why does any of this matter to me?”
Well, our work is the “future of work.” You may know that unemployment is down, but you might not know that many of the new jobs created since the Great Recession are jobs like ours. Three of the five fastest-growing occupations between now and 2022 projected by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics are our jobs: home care aide, personal care assistant, and fast food worker. Average pay for these occupations? $19,662 per year.
By any fair definition, this is a poverty level for a family. And not only is the pay obscenely low, but many of us are unable to get full-time — or even any consistent — hours scheduled for our work.
The new reality
Jobs like ours are becoming the new reality for millions of workers. As the New York Times recently pointed out, employee compensation is at the lowest level in 65 years, while corporate profits are at their highest level in at least 85. The piece of the pie for workers has been dwindling for years as unions have lost power and corporations have had no one to check their greed. We’ve seen how that has turned out for the majority of us, and we know that if we don’t fight back, nothing will change.
That’s why we are coming together. As different as our industries are, we face similar struggles and we have the same basic demands: respect, a voice, fair pay and union rights.
It has been a remarkable end to the summer here in Minnesota, with workers, elected officials, clergy and community allies rallying together to boldly assert that it is time for low-wage workers like us to take action, demand respect, and change our economy. When we win, our victories won’t just benefit us. They will grow the middle class and provide a needed boost to our whole economy.
We still have a lot of work to do, but we won’t stop until we win. After many years of effort, home care workers have won a union, and will soon begin bargaining with the state. We will work to win improvements both to our working conditions and to the care received by the people we serve. Fast-food workers have just begun the fight here in Minnesota, but we are amazed by the support and energy we received from the community during our first strike.
We deserve more — and have waited far too long
It is clear that organizing by low-wage workers is on the rise in Minnesota and across the country. We deserve more, and we’re not going to wait around for someone else to give us what we deserve. We waited for far too long. Nothing happened. Now we’re taking action ourselves.
You can expect to hear a lot more from us in the weeks and months ahead. And we hope you will join us as we fight – together, across industries and types of work, across ethnicities and languages and genders — for a better future for all Minnesota families.
Shaquonica Johnson is a home care worker from Brooklyn Park, and Guillermo Lindsay is a fast-food worker from Minneapolis.
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