On August 3, the Minneapolis City Council faced a room of over 100 community members and workers who support bringing a $15 minimum wage to voters in Minneapolis on the November ballot. Despite nearly 20,000 signatures supporting $15 on the ballot, the City Council needed to give final approval to bring the Charter amendment to voters. Instead, the Council blocked $15 from the ballot, and passed a non-binding, general proposal to request city staff look into raising wages. This staff directive is preferred by business because it’s without a clear timeline, doesn’t commit the Council to pass an ordinance to raise wages, didn’t include $15, and pushed off any possible action by the Council to mid-2017, when council members will be gearing up for re-election.
But the Council wasn’t able to self-congratulate on taking a meagre step toward raising wages when the packed room clearly rejected the proposal by shutting down the meeting and chanting “Vote Theft is Wage Theft” and “Let the People Vote!”.
The Twin Cities are home to 17 Fortune 500 companies – the highest concentration in the country – yet also the worst racial inequities in the nation. A staggering 48% of black people in Minneapolis live in poverty, compared to 13% of white people. It’s become clear that wealthy corporations like US Bank and Target pull the strings at City Hall. $15 an hour would impact over 100,000 workers, predominantly women and workers of color, and put almost a billion dollars a year into the hands of working people.
The Democratic Party led Council made politically motivated arguments to avoid the question of $15. Council members hid behind small business, and in one case, a council member compared $15 an hour to the “Brexit” referendum to illustrate that ordinary workers can’t be trusted to make important decisions on the economy. It exposed how the Democratic Party gives lip service to progressive causes, but in the end defends the interests of big business. Like with Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the Democratic Party worked overtime to block $15 an hour. It shows we need to build a party that is accountable to and built by the 99%, that fights unapologetically for the interests of ordinary people.
City Attorney Susan Segal gave cover to the Council’s vote with a legal opinion stating the minimum wage isn’t one of the city’s core functions and shouldn’t be in the charter. This same City Attorney raised an obscure legal argument in 2012 to by-pass a charter provision stating stadium subsidies require approval by referendum. When big business money was on the line, the attorney sought to work-around the charter, but if put to the people, polls showed that public funding for the stadium would likely have lost (Star Tribune, 3/12/12). Faced with a $15 minimum wage, the City Attorney encouraged the Council to defend poverty pay.
Let the People Vote! Workers Bring Lawsuit
Now, low-wage workers are suing the city, demanding the courts to overturn the Council’s decision and put $15 on the November ballot. As Tyler Vasseur, a minimum wage worker at Jimmy John’s and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said: “Mayor Hodges and many of you on the Council were voted in to fight this city’s worst-in-the-nation racial inequities. Yet in the two years you have been here, you have done little to address these problems. You have done nothing to address poverty wages.” The court case would need to be settled by August 26th to ensure the referendum appears on the November ballot.
The “$15 for Minneapolis” legal team of local and national attorneys made the case publicly that increasing the wage fits within the “general welfare powers” of the city’s charter. When it comes to the minimum wage, big business leverages its power through backroom deals and legal maneuvering rather than come out against a popular proposal like $15 an hour. The City Attorney’s legal opinion gave City Hall clearance to divert the power from the majority in society, that would benefit from higher pay in working class communities.
History shows that mass movements drive social change. While the courts serve the interests of the ruling elite they can be forced by mass pressure to back down. In Minneapolis, 15 Now Minnesota is embarking on a massive campaign to organize working people to pressure the court case.
Winning $15 in Minneapolis
Workers want to vote for $15, not vague promises from the City Council. Workers want to take their case to those directly affected by poverty wages, not plead in the back rooms of City Hall with the same big business representatives who make record profits at the expense of ordinary people. 20,000 people who signed the petition to put $15/hour on the ballot, and the over 1,000 who donated to the campaign, confirmed what workers know, that $15 an hour is popular and possible across the country.
We’re taking on the Democratic Party establishment and big business; support our campaign by visiting Votefor15MN.org today!