MINNEAPOLIS – Dozens of hourly workers flooded Minneapolis City Hall to rally for fair scheduling and paid sick time, delivering 6,000 petitions to city council offices on Wednesday.
The "working families agenda" debate is before Minneapolis city council members, who met in committee and set a hearing for the issue November 4th. The proposal includes some of the most sweeping changes in the nation when it comes to workplace conditions for hourly workers.
The Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of businesses are now rising in opposition of the plan, while many of the personal plights of hourly workers emerged on city hall steps.
A coalition of employees known as #MPLSWorks detailed struggles, they say, include reduced hours, unpaid sick time, and wage theft. Among them, Keandra Guilant, 26, of Minneapolis, who works at the McDonald's inside Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Guilant said her hours have been cut as a result of calling in sick to care for her son Kevarion, 3, who has autism. She said her employer cut her shifts after she joined a protest for higher wages.
"I only got like two hours a day. I couldn't pay rent, anything. It was really hard on my life. I got evicted because of the hours being cut," said Guilant. "I cry a lot, I mean, it's really stressful. It doesn't matter how many tears fall, I'm going to stay strong for my son. He deserves a better life and shouldn't have to struggle like I do."
Another retail janitor, who works for the Capital Building Services Group contracted by Macys, shared his story of sleeping in his car because he didn't have time to go home between nearly round the clock shifts.
"My co-workers and I who clean Macy's stores are part of a class action lawsuit against our employer for paying as low as $4-5 an hour," said Jesus Sanchez. "Enough is enough! I am joining retail janitors from across the Twin Cities metro area in setting a strike deadline for November 10. We are prepared to strike for $15, fair scheduling, paid sick days, an end to wage theft and for dignity and respect in our workplaces, in Minneapolis, and in all Minnesota."
Opposition to proposed workplace rules rises across Minneapolis in places like ACE Nicollet Hardware in South Minneapolis. Owner Julene Lind said she was shocked to learn about the proposal and is now educating her fellow business owners on what she sees as catastrophic restrictions to small business owners.
"I took the proposal round to this little corner and four businesses knew nothing. It has not been translated into Spanish at all or for the Somali people they have not translated it into either language," said Lind.
Lind also said the plan would be a scheduling nightmare for a small family business who allows employees to take off work or pick up shifts in a flexible manner.
"It's really overreaching and a little bit insulting for the business person to think that the city council has to come in and save our employees from us? First there's this shock that you have and then you start to realize how can I implement this? The paperwork will be endless," said Lind, who worries about the documentation of scheduling the proposal may require.
Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce President Todd Klingel stopped by her store to share his concerns, saying "a one size fits all mandate won't work for Minneapolis." He's now part of the Workforce Fairness Coalition formed as a response to the working families agenda to urge more collaboration on establishing workplace rules.
"Well, I have been in this industry over 25 years, there's never been an uproar like we've had over this issue in that time. It just shows it affects every business in Minneapolis that has an employee, so over 39,000 businesses would be having new costs thanks to the city inserting itself in their business," said Klingel. "It's ludicrous. It doesn't matter if you want to schedule 28 days, 14 days or 4 days, all those principles are in place and that just costs business money for no reason at all and makes a cold relationship between the employer and employee."
Council members Elizabeth Glidden and Lisa Bender said after a growing consensus among business owners, the plan will require businesses to have schedules set 14 days in advance, down from the original call for 28 days in advance.
"We have some of the worst racial disparities in the country, in the city of Minneapolis. And here are a lot of questions of how exactly to solve those problems, but doing nothing is not an option, we have too many working families who are working two or three part time jobs who still can't meet their basic needs like rent and food and transportation, so for us to back away from challenge of finding those solutions isn't an option," said Bender.
The specifics of the ordinance are expected be drafted by the November 4th hearing, spelling out what this means for Minneapolis' 39,000 businesses with at least one employee.
Bender said if the plan moves forward, it isn't expected to be implemented until late summer or fall of 2016.
Keandra Guilant, the McDonald's employee, vows to rally for the plan at every step. Her son Kevarion delivered the 6,000 petitions personally to Bender, who offered him a high five in return.
"That's my motivation," said Guilant. "My son having a better life than I do."