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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.