Over 100 people packed into Minneapolis City Hall to demand: "Let the People vote!"
Today, the DFL Minneapolis City Council Committee of the Whole voted down the $15 minimum wage charter amendment, in a vote to defend poverty wages in Minneapolis. We can’t allow City Council to get away with Vote Theft! If City Council blocks $15/hour from voters at the full council vote on Friday, low-wage workers are prepared to sue the City, and continue the fight to let Minneapolis vote for $15/hr.
As the 100 workers packed into City Hall saw today, City Council listens more to Big Business than to the nearly 20,000 Minneapolis workers who signed the charter amendment for $15/hr. City Council voted 10-2 against (with Council Members Alondra Cano and Cam Gordon casting the only votes in favor).
To make matters worse, while $15 supporters chanted “Vote theft is wage theft,” the city council voted down one staff directive to explore a $15/hr ordinance in favor of a non-binding directive to further discuss raising minimum wage through June 2016. This deceptively worded 'staff direction' pushes this matter well into next year and past the political endorsing conventions, a move to provide political cover for City Hall’s continuation of the Minneapolis status quo: deep racial and economic inequalities.
As Tyler Vasseur, a minimum wage worker at Jimmy John’s and college student, said in his remarks: “Mayor Hodges and many of you on the Council were voted in on the call of fighting this city’s worst-in-the-nation racial inequity. 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.”
Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal recommended that City Council block $15/hour from ballot, providing cover to the pro-business City Council. The Chamber of Commerce and the Minneapolis Downtown Council produced a statement urging the council and Mayor Betsy Hodges to “follow the sound legal advice of their city attorney.” But Big Business has no problem disregarding the city charter when it’s to their benefit, as they did to finance the Vikings stadium with taxpayer money, again hiding behind the City Attorney.
“Today’s vote was politically motivated, and the staff directive was introduced to give council members cover against coming out in support of $15/hour,” said 15 Now Executive Director Ginger Jentzen. “The council is hiding behind the City Attorney’s opinion. That’s why we need to keep organizing to win $15/hr for Minneapolis.”
Attorneys for the city and the $15 for Minneapolis legal team both stated that the Council’s vote could not be based on whether or not council members supported passing a municipal minimum wage. Nevertheless, while some Council Members like Jacob Frey voted down the initiative out of supposed-principled opposition to charter amendments, which are clearly legal in Minneapolis, other Council Members referenced concerns for small business and made other statements about their opposition to the substance of the proposed amendment. Bruce Nestor, part of the pro-$15 legal team said “The Minneapolis City council made a political choice, violating their obligation to only consider the legality of the amendment."
We have a strong team of national and local experts on our side. The team includes the National Employment Law Project, a leading national non-profit labor law center; Karen Marty, former city attorney for many municipalities and expert in municipal law; Paul Lukas, civil litigator and partner at the Minneapolis employment and civil rights firm of Nichols/Kaster; Bruce Nestor of the National Lawyers Guild, counsel in Berents v. City of Iowa City, 738 N.W.2d 193 (Iowa 2007), in which citizens successfully established a police-civilian review board by charter amendment over objection of the city attorney and city council.
Our legal team agrees: the City Attorney’s “legal” opinion is a sham, and has no legal precedent. Under the City’s charter, Minneapolis has the power to adopt ordinances or charter provisions to protect the public’s health, safety and general well-being, including the power to establish a local minimum wage. The Minnesota Constitution gives city residents the right to change the city charter by gathering enough signatures to place an amendment on the ballot. There is no serious support or precedent for the City Attorney’s claim that raising the local minimum wage would violate Minnesota law. That means that the City Council is legally required to put the measure on the ballot. Blocking $15 from the ballot doesn’t just disenfranchise thousands of Minneapolis voters - it violates state law.
Our legal challenge is crucial, but does not change the need to continue the movement to win $15/hr. Time and time again, what is or is not legal depends on the strength and determination of movements. Things that once were considered “legal” by the political establishment like Jim Crow, union rights and disenfranchising women from voting, were overturned by mass movements led by working people. We know we have a strong legal case, but we need to keep organizing to defeat poverty wages. The fight to win $15 won’t just be decided in courtrooms - it’s going to take a movement to back up our legal team.
We need to raise $2,500 by Friday to prepare our legal defense. That’s a lot of money, but if 50 people donate $50 right now, we can do it.
We need to build our movement right now if we want to see $15/hr for Minneapolis this year.
Join us this weekend to talk people across the city. We need to build the fight for $15 and counter the pro-business narrative of the City establishment. Sign up to volunteer this weekend at Powderhorn Art Fair, Uptown Art Fair, and Open Streets Northeast.
We can’t let City Hall get away with siding for big business and defending poverty wages - Minneapolis needs $15/hr now. 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. The cost of living in Minneapolis is the highest in Minnesota, with a single worker needing to earn at least $15.28 an hour just to cover basic necessities. We can lead a race-to-the-top for workers in the state of Minnesota, and join the more than 30 cities across the country that have recently increased the minimum wage. If we continue the movement to win $15 this year, we can set a nationwide precedent, opening the door to $15 across the whole Midwest, a region decimated by the "Great Recession."