Dozens protest in support of $15 minimum wage in St. Paul

The city is currently collecting public comment

Sloane Martin
June 11, 2018 - 5:59 pm

Sloan Martin, WCCO Radio

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Several dozen protesters shut down a portion of Kellogg Blvd. in downtown St. Paul Monday evening calling for a $15 minimum wage.

After the city of Minneapolis approved an ordinance to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour last year, advocates say they're feeling hopeful.

"It's frustrating when you see people working full-time in the hardest jobs there are in restaurants or personal care attendants -- this is hard work," Rev. Victoria Safford said as she held a banner that protesters marched around. "They go to work full-time, come home and they can't pay rent or feed their families. Yes, it's frustrating, but it's a beautiful journey and we are making progress and our voices will be heard."

At least 100 protesters were on hand to send the message that even with nationwide momentum in the "Fight for 15," the battle in the city of St. Paul is just beginning. They marched from McDonald's near Marian St. and University Ave. to St. Paul City Hall where they chanted and sang. People who work multiple jobs to make ends meet shared their stories about how a higher wage would improve their lives.

Maria, who works in St. Paul and did not provide her last name, said her demanding work schedule keeps her from spending time with her family. 

"This is about our families," she said through an interpreter. "This is about keeping families together because with the salaries we have now, we cannot maintain a family. It's a struggle because living with these wages makes it impossible to live happily with your husband and taking care of your parents, for instance. It's impossible."

A report from the Metropolitan Council in 2017 found that 40 percent of St. Paul residents live below the minimum wage. Advocates say allowing people to raise their standard of living will improve their quality of life.

"It's obviously an economic issue and it's obviously a political issue," Safford said. "But at the core it is a moral issue. This is a matter of decency and human dignity and it always has been. As long as workers have been fighting for a fair wage, it's always been a moral issue."

Gini Johnson and her husband Roger, who have been married 54 years, took part in the march but had to leave early. Roger Johnson was arrested less than a month ago for participating in a stand-in protest at Rep. Pat Garofalo's office and he had to vow not to get arrested for a year. The couple says things aren't like they used to be when they married in 1964 and could both get four-year degrees at the University of Minnesota and raise a family on their salaries. They say they both graduated with no debt and no support from family as Roger Johnson made $2 an hour with a summer job.

"All of this is pushing people down," she said. "It's profits over people."

The city is in the beginning stages of gathering public comment to move forward with a tangible ordinance. One discussion session is in the books with three more scheduled. The next is Saturday, Aug. 4 from 9 a.m. to noon at a location to be announced later. Data collected from those two meetings will be shared with the nonpartisan think tank brought in by the city, The Citizens League, to produce its Phase 2 report that will include an economic analysis and recommendations. Phase 1 was presented in February to city officials. The third and fourth sessions will come after that report is released at the end of August.

Mayor Melvin Carter addressed protesters and said he is ready to sign an ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of the year. Staff members from his office were on hand to provide information about the sessions.

Sloan Martin, WCCO Radio

"We want to be a city where no one has protest because we're listening to all of our voices together," he said.

Some small businesses and organizations have opposed the $15 minimum wage proposal, saying it will hurt their bottom line. The effort in Minneapolis faced stiff blowback from groups like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce which sued over the ordinance before pulling out late last year. Northeast Minneapolis-based manufacturer Graco stayed in the lawsuit "to preserve a flexible work environment and a vibrant business community in this state."

"A city mandating a minimum wage is a slippery slope," Graco spokesperson Charlotte Boyd said last December. "If this stands, then we have no ability to predict what the next mandate will be. Businesses cannot make informed long-term investment decisions in an uncertain environment."

A Hennepin County District Court judge sided with the city in March.

The state minimum wage for small employers is $7.87 an hour and for large companies it is $9.65. In September 2017, Minneapolis-based Target announced it was raising its minimum wage to $11 an hour that will increase to $15 by the end of 2020.