Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Monday, October 05, 2015

Why We Need Fair Work Practices Legislation in Minneapolis

In light of the recently proposed “Working Families Agenda” we, as a city, are deeply engaged in a much needed discussion about fair work practices in Minneapolis.  As we drill down into the details of what basic standards for fair scheduling and paid time off should be, let’s keep our focus on the bigger picture. 

It's no secret: our economy is increasingly rigged in favor of the very rich  

Its no secret: young adults are struggling harder than ever to gain economic independence when faced with steadily rising costs of housing, education and health care. 

Its no secret: Minneapolis is home to the worst racial employment and income disparities in the nation. 

Not only are more and more poor workers, young workers, single parents and workers of color not keeping up, their incomes are actually falling.  This is especially true for our black workers as you can see here and here.

We live in a thriving city that works wonderfully for many of us.  But for many of us, Minneapolis does not work well at all.  As hard as it is to admit, we live in a city where some are on track for success and prosperity, and where others – too often due to their race – are on track for poverty and hardship. This has to change, and we have to change it.

The Working Families Agenda done right will help do that. 

Yes, it’s complicated. We must think about unintended consequences. We need to listen to each other. We need to understand the perspectives of employees as well as employers, especially our smaller businesses who are feeling the most threatened.

We can be nuanced and we can be reasonable, but let’s not forget how critically important this work is to making Minneapolis a better city, and a city that works well for ALL of us.

Right now, most high- and middle-wage employees have basic standards that provide some protection from risks faced by any person or any business. We have consistent, stable schedules, paid time off when we’re sick and livable wages. Low wage workers lack many of these protections. 

The fact is that our economy today deals with risk by placing too much of it on the poorest and least powerful. If rain shuts down a patio, a server is cut from a schedule she had planned to work, missing out on income she needed to pay her rent. If a cook catches a cold, he is expected to take unpaid time off – and may choose instead to come to work while sick.

This isn’t right, and we know it’s not right. There has to be a fairer balance between the risks borne by businesses and the risks borne by the poorest workers among us. There has to be a fairer balance between the lowest-wage workers and the highest-wage workers. We can’t afford to create a permanent underclass of low-wage, often black, brown and native workers who are denied some of the most basic protections – protections which so many of us have taken for granted for decades. Because if we allow that to happen, it's bad for us all.

And because the “free market” economy and the federal and state governments have failed to do what needs to be done to adequately address the needs of working people, cities have to step up.

That’s why I support the Working Families Agenda.

The success of our city depends on our ability to face and address historic and structural racial injustice and close racial economic disparities.  To do that, we need an equitable economy. This includes establishing basic standards that provide some predictability to work schedules, and some protection from last-minute forced cancellations or other changes. This includes some standard for earning paid time off if you or a family member is sick. No dependable long term employee should have to choose between working while sick and losing a needed day’s pay. Additionally, no worker should have their wages stolen, and have no effective recourse. Every worker should make a livable wage.

I know that there are businesses out there, small and large, that agree with this. We can disagree about details, but we can forge a consensus that everyone can live with.

It’s important to put these proposals in context. At one time in this country, even more risk was placed on workers. Poor safety practices and bad working conditions killed, maimed and injured many workers. There was no minimum wage. There was no 40 hour limit on a work week. There were no laws prohibiting child labor. Workplace organizing was prohibited.  We rightly shifted those risks and costs to businesses and through them to consumers. Now businesses must maintain safe working conditions, pay at least a certain wage, and allow workers to organize. Those victories were good for ALL workers in our country and helped create the strong economically independent healthy middle class that has been critical to the economic well-being of our country.

Now, at this time of growing, glaring, stubbornly tenacious economic disparities plaguing our city, adopting modest, minimal fair protections for all Minneapolis workers is not only the right thing to do but I believe it is one of the smartest things we can for the long term economic health of our city.