Minnesota Minimum Wage Hits A Standstill

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After proposing a $9.50 an hour minimum wage, legislators have been unable to decide whether or not the wage should gradually increase in future years.

Casting an even grayer cloud over the likelihood of an increase, Senate majority leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) has said that if the wage does adjust on account of inflation, the bill will be null and void this session.

“It doesn’t look like we’re making a lot of progress,” Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, told his fellow lawmakers as they attempted to negotiate a minimum wage compromise on Wednesday, the Star Tribune reports.

But, there’s still hope. Some legislators are encouraging residents of Minnesota to get involved in order to raise the wage.

On his Twitter feed, Minimum Wage Challenge participant Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) encouraged people to get involved in the fight:

“If you live in Minnesota, and you care about a respectable minimum wage, you need to contact your state senator. Now. #RaiseTheWage.”

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“I Have No Idea How You Are Going to Pull This Off”: Nutrition on A Minimum Wage Budget

“Here’s what my $29.96 bought me,” Rep. John Lesch (DFL-Saint Paul) says into the camera. He then turns the camera to his kitchen floor, where he has laid three meals a day for the entire week. Lesch is one of the Minnesota lawmakers participating in our Minimum Wage Challenge, which limits his weekly food budget at roughly $35.

In the homemade video posted on YouTube, Lesch runs over this meal plan: for breakfast, two eggs and one cup of fruit loops; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Ramen noodles for lunch; and depending on the day, repeating that same lunch for dinner. For a few dinners, he includes a Tostino’s Personal Party Pizza.

“Now keep in mind, this is for one person,” he says. “If you have to raise a family, if you have a child, two children on minimum wage, I have no idea how you are going to pull this off.”

We know that many low-wage workers in Minnesota and across the country do have to care for children. Out of more than 356,000 low-wage workers in the state, about 63,000 have at least one child.

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As he goes over his meal plan, Lesch points out that he has tried to vary his meals day to day–a few tuna sandwiches mixed in with the PB&J, no mayo–but that it’s a pretty repetitive diet. There’s also no fruits or vegetables, save for a few cans of green beans and corn.

“I don’t know how sick of this I’ll get,” Lesch concludes, “or how fat I will get, eating all the MSGs and whatever else is in the Ramen…and all the fat in the pizza.”

The lack of nutrition available on a minimum wage budget struck Moorhead City Councilwoman Heidi Durand as well. “I can’t tolerate another can of condensed soup…I haven’t had fresh fruit or veggies since Wednesday,” she reported, “I know one thing: our minimum wage is not healthy!”

We’ve heard since we were children about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. The calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folic acid,  and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables are especially important for a child’s development, but also for adults to protect against osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems, and even mental conditions like Alzheimer’s and depression.

Durand said she felt the emotional pressure even after just a few days. “[Living on minimum wage] is not emotionally healthy either. There were several moments where I felt completely dependent and helpless and the only thing that got me through was knowing it was temporary.”

The Minnesota legislative session will begin today, February 25. Tell the Minnesota Senate to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.

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Minnesota Lawmakers Meet With Minimum Wage Workers for a Reality Check

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Imagine what it’s like to be 6 months pregnant, relying on the bus to get you to and from your two minimum wage jobs. How would it feel to have nothing left over after you paid for food and rent?

Nationally, his is a familiar plight for many low-wage workers. For Minnesota-based Judith Nunez, Jim Parsons and Lucila Dominquez, this is reality.

Yesterday, two of the Minnesota legislators participating in our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge sat down with minimum wage workers for a “Reality Check” meeting. The conversation shed a powerful light on what it means to be a minimum wage worker.

Dominquez, whose wages give her enough for food and shelter only, revealed that tough times have led her to advocate for workers’ rights. “I am unable to do anything else [with my money], which is why I’ve gotten involved in organizing for raising our wages and working conditions,” she said.

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For Working America member Nunez, who is pregnant with her first child and often exhausted from her hectic work schedule and difficult commute, the fight for minimum wage is about equality and community. “We are all human beings and it shouldn’t be this hard for any of us to provide the basic needs we all share,” she says.

It shouldn’t be difficult, but the reality is that more than 200,000 Minnesotans are working for the minimum wage of $7.25, often for companies that post enormous profits. Among the 50 low-wage employers, 92 percent were profitable last year, and 63 percent are earning higher profits than they were before the recession. That’s the reality of minimum wage work in this country and this is what it looks like.

“I work at the Mall of America, where there are a huge number of people working for minimum wage. I see them work very hard and make a lot of money for the companies who employ them. It seems only right to me that their work should be valued at a higher level and all workers should be getting at least $9.50 (an) hour,” said Jim Parsons, a 53 year old father of three from South Minneapolis. Parsons, unable to find work in his field, works three part-time jobs to support himself and his three children.

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These people, like so many others, are the face of minimum wage workers in America. They are not the stereotype of teenagers making extra pocket money. They are adults, current or expecting parents, oftentimes the breadwinners of their household. They work diligently, make tough choices like skipping meals, and still have difficulty making ends meet; often they end up relying on taxpayer-funded services like Medicaid and SNAP just to get by while their employers continue to pocket record profits.

“We all work hard, we all get tired, we all struggle to get by and we all deserve better,” Dominquez said.

Send a message to the Minnesota legislature: tell them it’s time to raise the minimum wage.

 

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Can Retail Executives Live on Their Own Low Wages?

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Over the past week, five Minnesota lawmakers have taken the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge, calling attention to the struggles of low wage workers by living one week on a minimum wage budget.

But what about the executives of the companies that pay those low wages? Do they know what life is like on $7.25 or $8 an hour?

On Wednesday, February 19, workers who are contracted to clean Target stores joined Organizing for Action (OFA) for an event outside of the Target store in Minneapolis to call for a raise in wages for Minnesota workers. At the event, workers called on Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel to take our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and try to live for one week on a budget from $7.25 per hour.

Maricela Flores, a mother of five who works for Carlson Building Maintenance cleaning a Target store, told of the stresses that come with poverty wages and asked Mr. Steinhafel to take the challenge.

“I am a single mother of 5 children trying to get by on the $8 an hour I am paid to clean a Target store,” Flores said, “It must be difficult for the CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel, to understand what it is like to be paid such low wages.”

“In 2012 Mr. Steinhafel made over $9,900 an hour–he does not have to live the constant reality of choosing between paying rent, food, clothes, health care,” said Flores, who is a member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), a Twin Cities worker center. “We are calling on Mr. Steinhafel to take the ‘Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and live on $7.25 an hour for one week to understand what we face.”

Also speaking at the event was Enrique Barcenas, who works for Prestige Maintenance USA cleaning a Target store. He spoke of the need for homegrown companies like Target and powerful leaders like Mr. Steinhafel to take a lead to ensure that no one willing to work full time should have to live in poverty in our state.

“Every evening I work cleaning a Target store, surrounded by food and other necessities that I can’t afford to buy. The cost of living goes up every year, yet our wages remain stagnant,” said Barcenas, also a member of CTUL. “Now is the time for change. It is time for companies like Target to support fair wages for Minnesotan families. It is time for retail janitorial companies to recognize our right to organize.”

The group went into Target headquarters after the rally, but were not allowed to talk with Mr. Steinhafel. They left the guidelines for the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge with the security guards who blocked the entrance and asked for confirmation whether Mr. Steinhafel will accept the challenge to live a week in the shoes of a minimum wage worker. They were not given a response.

On February 25, the Minnesota AFL-CIO and community allies will rally at the Capitol Rotunda in Saint Paul to call on legislators to take action on raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.

Photo by CTUL on Facebook

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Making it on Minimum Wage “More of Us Should Live on What We’re Asking People to Do”

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Surfing a rental housing website for low-cost apartments in her district on the south side of Minneapolis, State Rep. Karen Clark didn’t find much to choose from. Not much that was very appealing, anyhow.

“It looks like a little box. It’s weird looking,” said Clark, checking the photo of a house for rent from her office in the state capitol. In her price range — $375 a month while she is living on the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge — she wouldn’t be renting the whole house. Just one room is available — in a shared house with three adult men.

“It would be very discouraging,” she says. To live in shared housing, she says, “I would have to go back to my early days out of school; that’s what I did when I got out of college. If I had children, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Clark and four other Minnesota legislators — Reps. Frank Hornstein (Minneapolis), John Lesch (St. Paul), Jason Metsa (Virginia) and Shannon Savick (Wells) — have accepted the Minimum Wage Challenge. To help educate their colleagues as the legislature debates raising the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, they’re living this week as if they earned the current minimum of $7.25 an hour. That translates to $15,080 a year, or $1,256 a month. A standard housing budget is 30 percent of income, leaving Clark and her colleagues $375 to find a place to live.

At that price, there aren’t many options. “I can tell you that two years ago, in order to rent a two-bedroom apartment in my district, you had to have an income of $17.25 an hour,” says Clark. “It may have changed some, but it hasn’t gone down.”

Coping with adult roommates is only one of the challenges facing those with a minimal budget for shelter. “Some of the housing that’s available is not appropriate for children. It has a lot of lead paint. That’s very toxic for toddlers,” says Clark, who worked as a nurse practitioner before she was elected to the legislature.

In addition to raising wages, she says, Minnesota needs to invest more in affordable housing. “We have around 20,000 homeless people, and half of those are children. We have waiting lists for public housing. We know how to make housing affordable — you can use land trusts — but it costs money.”

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Money is one thing Clark doesn’t have much of this week. Her food budget is just $35 a week. “I had a good breakfast,” she says. “One egg and toast, with a little extra olive oil. I think that was helpful.”

“I’m not suffering,” she is quick to point out. But Clark also has noticed “being on the edge of hunger” more than a few times. How does she cope? “Drinking more water,” she says, with a chuckle. “If I’m hungry, I’ll have a big glass of water.”

“It’s both inspiring and challenging,” says Clark, to learn what life is like for those living on minimum wage. “It increases my resolve, and I look forward to passing that law” to give low-wage workers in Minnesota a raise to $9.50 an hour. “I do think more of us who are making that kind of decision should live on what we’re asking people to do. I think that would open some eyes.”

Take action now and help raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50.

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“This Budget Has No Room For Mistakes, No Room for Emergency”: What Snow Storms Mean For Minimum Wage Workers

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball that you weren’t expecting.

After spring-like weather earlier this week, Minnesota is getting hit with yet another in a series of snow storms. Already as of Friday morning, state troopers have responded to 174 car accidents, and schools from Mankato to St. Paul have closed for the day.

For minimum wage workers, snow storms are more than an inconvenience, as our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge participants are experiencing firsthand.

“I’m lucky,” wrote Minneapolis Rep. Frank Hornstein, ”I have a salaried job, so a snow day allows me to still earn an income. Minimum wage earners don’t have that luxury.”

For many low-wage workers, if work is shut down because of a snow storm, or their bus is severely delayed in the snow, that means they’re not getting paid. Snow days and unexpected circumstances mean one less meal to put on the table and one more bill that could go unpaid.

In Greater Minnesota, snow storms often hit low-wage workers even harder. Iron Range Rep. Jason Metsa, a two-year Minimum Wage Challenge participant, found this out last year when he tried to factor a car repair into his minimum wage budget.

“Most people would have a car payment, but luckily I don’t, because my car is a ’99,” he told us. With his insurance payment of $138 a month, he’s left with $32 a month for gas and maintenance.

One spin-out or collision with another car, like the 174 accidents already reported in this current storm, would mean a trip to the shop that would put him deep in the red.

It was sobering, Metsa told us, that he would literally have to take out a loan if he wanted to get home to the Iron Range. “This budget has no room for mistakes, no room for an emergency, and it’s almost an extra job to make sure I’m spending each penny wisely,” Metsa reflected.

Across the country, the stormy winter has thrown states into havoc, exemplified by the disastrous high-profile traffic jams in Atlanta. But what you won’t hear about in the news are the burdens borne by low-wage workers: the server who is fired because her delayed bus didn’t get her to work on time, the Walmart associate who sold her car to make a heating payment, or the thousands of children who skip meals on snow days because school is their only source of hot lunch.

256,000 Minnesotans currently make less than $9.50 an hour. For them, raising the minimum wage is about more than politics; it’s about the opportunity to weather whatever unexpected storm comes their way.

“Minneapolis Public Schools are closed today, people were just informed at 5:30 a.m. of that,” said Rep. Hornstein, “So they are choosing between the job they possibly can’t get to and having to scramble for child care.”

He added: “These are choices no one should have to make.”

Take action: Tell you representatives it’s time to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage.

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Not Just A Metro Issue: For Greater Minnesota, Poverty Wages Often Present Greater Challenge

All too often, political issues in Minnesota are presented as pitting the interests of the Twin Cities metro area against those of the rest of the state, also known as “Greater Minnesota.”

But despite the rhetoric, raising the minimum wage cuts across all geographic boundaries. Heidi Durand, a City Councilmember from Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the border from Fargo, North Dakota, discovered as much when she joined Working America’s Minimum Wage Challenge.

“I grew up in a working class home and I always knew my mom was an expert at stretching a dollar,” Councilwoman Durand told us, “And like a tidal wave, this challenge has brought her values back into my life.”

The minimum wage budget today 2014 is harder to stretch than it was when Durand’s was growing up. The value of the federal minimum wage of $7.25, adjusted for inflation, is worth $2 less today than it was in 1968.

If the minimum wage had risen with inflation since 1968, it would stand at around $10.50.

As part of our Minimum Wage Challenge, Durand went shopping in Moorhead with the weekly food budget of $35. Her haul included Ramen noodles, beef, eggs, and soup, bypassing more expensive fruits and vegetables. “It was disappointing to have to spend the bulk of my money on products that contain at least 35 percent of your daily allowance for sodium,” she told WDAZ, studying the nutrition facts on a can of soup.

“You think about one person and 35 dollars and think ‘well, that’s not that bad,” Durand added to KVLY, “but we’ll see…I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it on $35 this week.”

Councilwoman Durand, along with Minnesota Reps. Karen Clark, Frank Hornstein, John Lesch, Jason Metsa, and Shannon Savick, are taking our Challenge to raise awareness of the minimum wage; never forgetting that more than 256,000 Minnesota workers currently make less than $9.50 live that challenge every day, and don’t have the option of returning to a more secure lifestyle.

More than 63,000 Minnesota low-wage workers have at least one child who depends on them, stretching that $35 food budget even further.

This fact struck Rep. Jason Metsa, who represents part of Greater Minnesota’s Iron Range. Rep. Metsa took our Minimum Wage Challenge last year and is doing so again in 2014. “It would be even more challenging…if I had a family,” he said during his grocery trip, “I might have to make the hard choice, like giving up my car that requires insurance so that I could have a larger food budget for my kids.”

Later this week, our Minimum Wage Challenge participants will explore how they are able to stretch their transportation budgets. Some, like Minneapolis Rep. Frank Hornstein, can take public transportation to work at the Capitol, while Rep. Metsa has a three hour drive.

Tell the Minnesota Senate to pass HR 92 and raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.

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Reps Reflect on 24 Hours of Living On Minimum Wage: “Living On This Budget Forces Choices All The Time”

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Minnesota Representative Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) did something at the grocery store he had never done before.

“I had never scrutinized prices while food shopping to this extent,” he said, “I even weighed two different kinds of potatoes to see where I could catch a break.”

Rep. Hornstein is one of five Minnesota lawmakers taking the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge. Reps. Hornstein, John Lesch, Karen Clark, Metsa, and Shannon Savick are living this week as if they made $7.25 an hour, an effort to raise awareness of the minimum wage as legislators consider increasing it to $9.50 by 2015.

From grocery shopping to transportation, Rep. Hornstein is already “feeling the ‘challenge’ part of the minimum wage challenge.”

“I decided to take transit to the Capitol because that would allow for three extra dollars for food,” he reported.

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Luckily, the Minneapolis lawmaker lives and works in the same area, and has access to a robust public transit system. Rep. Shannon Savick, who hails from Wells, isn’t so lucky: she has a two hour drive to work.

“The transportation budget is going to be very tight because I need to make a few drives for work that will take up nearly all of it,” she told us, “These challenges really go to show just how difficult it can be for low wage workers to get by on the minimum wage alone.”

With the $35 per week food budget, Rep. Savick is trying to go without. “I think I’m doing well with the food budget mostly by eating a little less and essentially skipping breakfast,” adding that her lunch two days in a row consisted of “a cup of soup and some milk.”

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“Dinner was a bag of Ramen noodles for under $1,” said Hornstein, “After one day I am realizing that living on this budget forces choices all the time.”

The low-wage workers we’ve talked to all mention these forced choices; whether it’s choosing between medicine and food or between paying the heating bill or buying diapers for their kids. “Today’s effective minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $15,080 a year for a full-time worker, is not enough to meet basic needs—not for an individual or a family,” writes John Clay of the Jobs Now Coalition. “A Minnesota family of two full-time working adults with two children, each worker must earn $14.03 per hour to cover the cost of basic needs.”

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As much as they try to plan their budgets, being constantly cognizant of every cent has its limits. To stretch his food dollars, Rep. Hornstein tried breakfast at the McDonald’s down the street from the Capitol. “I got a glass of orange juice with my dollar breakfast burrito which added another $1.79 to the tab,” he said, “I won’t make that mistake again.”

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New Poll Confirms: Increasing the Minimum Wage Is Incredibly Popular in Minnesota

One of the first issues the Minnesota legislature will deal with when their session starts on February 25 is the question of raising the minimum wage. A new poll from the Star Tribune shows that supporters of increasing the minimum wage are in good company.

79 percent of all Minnesotans support raising the minimum wage, ten points higher than a year ago.

That majority includes 83 percent of women, 85 percent of independents, 78 percent of those living in Greater Minnesota, and even 58 percent of Republicans.

While not everyone agreed exactly on the $9.50 target, very few Minnesotans polled believe that the current state minimum wage of $6.15 is sufficient. (The state minimum wage is $6.15 but is superseded by the federal minimum of $7.25.)

In fact, what the poll didn’t allow for is for respondents to express a desire for a minimum wage higher than $9.50. “I think it should be more. It should be a minimum of $10. Minimum,” 51 year-old temp worker Jeff Richard told the Star Tribune. “I don’t know how someone working for less would possibly live.”

Five Minnesota representatives are taking the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge this week to raise awareness about the issue. They are all spending the week on a minimum wage budget, which includes $35 for food.

Minnesota legislators receive a $66 per diem on top of their salary, which might make the experience of a minimum wage worker seem foreign to them. Reps. Clark, Hornstein, Lesch, Metsa, and Savick are looking to change that.

These representatives all in favor of Rep. Ryan Winkler’s bill to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015 and tie it to inflation, which passed the House last year. The poll shows that the public is firmly behind them.

“This clearly indicates that a broad swath of Minnesotans believe that this is the way to go,” said Brian Rusche, co-chair of the Minnesota Raise the Wage Coalition.

Follow the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge at WorkingMinnesota.org.

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Five Minnesota Legislators Will Live On Minimum Wage This Week

Five Minnesota politicians aren’t just talking the talk about raising the minimum wage, they are walking the walk too.

Today, a slew of State Representatives gathered for a press conference to announce their week-long participation in the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge this week.

Representative Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), who moderated the press conference, announced that from February 18th to the 24th Reps will be required to “live” on Minnesota’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage (Minnesota’s real minimum wage is $6.15 but the federal minimum is $7.25). Rep. Winkler is also the sponsor of HR 92, which would raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015 and index it to inflation. The bill passed the House last May.

Last year, Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) participated and found it to be nothing short of difficult. This year Metsa is giving the challenge another go.

During the press conference participants used data from the Jobs Now Coalition to create a budget based on their new wages. The budget allocates a weekly allowance of $35 for groceries, $278 a month for transportation and $359 a month for housing, to name a few.

At first glance the budget may seem terribly unmanageable but the reality is that, in Minnesota, this is a reality for many working Americans. Specifically, this is a reality for almost 90,000 hourly workers.

The Minimum Wage Challenge is part of a larger effort by Rep. Winkler, Working America, and the broad Raise the Wage coalition to raise awareness around the minimum wage. Winkler’s goal is to pass the wage increase within the first two weeks of the Minnesota legislative session.

Calling the proposed $9.50 an hour increase a “realistic range,” Rep. Winkler also noted that as of late, support in favor of raising the wage was growing.

The five State Representatives participating are Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis), Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis), John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) and Shannon Savick (DFL-Wells). Reps. Lesch, Hornstein, and Savick attended the press conference.

During the press conference, Lesch noted that too many members of the Minnesota legislature talk about “living within our means” without fully grasping the reality of minimum wage work.

“We want to show the urgency of this issue by taking on these challenges of daily living,” Rep. Winkler said. “Although this week cannot replicate nor do justice to someone’s actual experience, we hope that they at least open a window into the critical situation faced by Minnesota workers.”

Tomorrow, representatives will be tasked with turning $35 into a week’s worth of food at local grocery stores.

Follow the challenge on Facebook and Twitter and visit WorkingMinnesota.org for more ways to get involved in the fight to #RaisetheWage!

Photo via @FairMN on Twitter

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