Recently there have been conversations happening about the impacts of the minimum wage increases in St. Paul and Minneapolis. There are genuine concerns about how to measure economic impacts that came during a global pandemic, an uprising against racism and huge changes in how and where people work, but those valid critiques aren’t even our biggest concerns.
We once again find ourselves frustrated that the story of the impacts of policy on workers ends up being only about questionable charts and graphs, not real people. How many working people did these experts talk to when they made determinations about hours worked? How many workers who saw their wages increase and potentially could cut back from three jobs to two did these experts speak to about what that means for our state?
We know who disproportionately hold jobs paying minimum wage: immigrant communities, people of color and women. Those groups are the core of our organizations, and those groups were at the forefront of fighting to raise wages to address the awful racial inequalities that have and continue to be an embarrassment to our state.
These stories imply the workers who fought hard to pass these bills somehow don’t understand how this works. As if raising wages isn’t something that moves wealth into the hands of working people and improves lives. Our members have seen – over and over – the reality of greedy bosses who will do everything they can to divide us and pit us against each other. In this case, the so-called experts are doing their work for them.
Here is what our members know: they were called “essential” throughout the pandemic but are often paid so little that they need to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. They often work for companies or in buildings that house corporations that are seeing their profits skyrocket. While bosses got to work from home during COVID, our members were doing the work to keep our society running. Yet now they’re being told that raising the minimum wage to just $15 is somehow bad for workers. What an insulting, misguided, close-minded outlook.
Maybe if the workers of color who fought to pass the minimum wage were asked, they’d say that things have gotten better because of the upward pressure of wages, and trying to make sense of employment data during a pandemic and when work from home is changing the retail industry doesn’t make sense?
Our organizations are proud to have strong, powerful bases of workers of color who don’t let this silliness get them frustrated or distracted. They are treated with disrespect from their bosses every day, but they stand strong in the fight to improve our workplaces, our communities and our whole state. This latest round of discouraging workers and making them feel guilty for “getting raises” is not new and it certainly won’t stop our members from continuing to fight to increase wages across the state.
Our current systems don’t hear the voices of working people – especially workers of color. That’s why we organize and that’s why we build power. Everything from policy to “reports” would be better if they included actual people directly impacted. You know who could tell you if the minimum wage has been good for minimum wage workers? We’ll let you guess, but it isn’t a bunch of disconnected people writing reports from home offices or workplaces cleaned every day by our members.
We know raising the minimum wage is good for workers, it’s good for small businesses who get the money poured right back into our community, and it’s good for the health of our state to have money in the hands of working people and not a handful of people getting rich off our hard work. We don’t need a years-long study to tell us that.
Eli Stein is the lead organizer with Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota (ROC-MN), Rod Adams is executive director of The New Justice Project, Veronica Mendez Moore and Merle Payne are co-directors of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) and Abdirahman Muse is the executive director of The Awood Center.