Retail Working America Members Win Changes by Standing Together


Minnesota has made a name for itself as a major hub of the retail industry – look no further than Target and Best Buy, both headquartered in the state. Yet, even as big retail stores reap billions in profits from eager shoppers, retail workers haven’t shared in those gains.

Now, that’s changing. By joining Working America, retail workers are gaining a stronger voice on the job and demanding corporate accountability. In 2014, workers took action to raise the state’s minimum wage, a low $6.15 an hour, and won. The new $9.50 base hourly wage takes the state from having one of the lowest minimum wages in the country to one of the highest when it fully kicks in by 2016, giving more than 325,000 Minnesotans a much-needed raise.

Retail workers from Working America are also joining together to work directly with their co-workers to change their specific workplaces and solve problems on the job.

Last fall, workers from a Twin Cities mall started talking about how they could win changes at their job.  Associates faced low wages, and those working part time lacked health care. Workers faced racial discrimination, no paid sick days and safety challenges. One worker was assaulted by a customer and sustained a concussion while at work. Despite all this, managers had done little to address workers’ concerns, and morale on the job was low.

The workers wanted to do something about it.

The associates met regularly to set priorities and strategize about how to make things better. They circulated a petition calling for paid sick days and distributed surveys to see what co-workers wanted in a better workplace. After building support throughout the store, the members brought their concerns directly to management. They talked with supervisors and directors about the problems they and their co-workers faced and how they were coming together to address these challenges.

By standing united, they saw results.

Management announced shortly after the meeting that workers would be receiving wage increases, paid sick days and that benefits would be added for part-time workers.

Workers at this mall in Minnesota made it happen. They won needed improvements and gained a newfound confidence by talking with one another and uniting for a collective voice. We still have much to do. Workers at the mall continue to face low wages, safety concerns and other problems, but the group showed that by coming together, workers can create a better workplace.

The fight continues to give all retail workers the kinds of initial gains made at one Twin Cities mall. Retail workers are talking with state lawmakers about the need for paid sick days, and they’re leading the call for fair scheduling policies at the state and local level, testifying at a recent hearing.

To get involved in the fight for a better Minnesota for retail workers, contact Working America Minnesota.

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Image via mo1229 on Flickr

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


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.


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.”


“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.”


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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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 for more ways to get involved in the fight to #RaisetheWage!

Photo via @FairMN on Twitter

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And the Grammy Goes to…the Minnesota Orchestra

During the 16 months the Minnesota Orchestra was locked out, it was often described as one of the best orchestra’s in the world. Sunday night, a little more than two weeks after the orchestra’s musicians—members American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM)—ratified a new agreement ending the lockout, the Minnesota Orchestra’s reputation as one of the world’s best was cemented with a Grammy award.

Facing competition from major orchestras around the world, including the Los Angeles and the Berlin philharmonics, the Minnesota Orchestra took the Grammy award for Best Orchestral Performance for its recording of “Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4,” conducted by Osmo Vänskä.

Principal cellist Tony Ross told the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

We’re all thrilled….It’s very difficult to win as a Midwestern orchestra. Most of the voters live in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Nashville. This [win] was for orchestral performance—it’s about quality onstage.

In a statement on the Minnesota Musicians website, Ross said:

The winning of a Grammy award for Best Orchestral Performance confirms where the Musicians and our leader Osmo Vänskä were as a symphony orchestra before the lockout. We were a great orchestra enjoying a special relationship with our music director, Osmo Vänskä, that brought worldwide acclaim to Minnesota. This is also why we need him to return and carry on with the projects and partnership that have brought this orchestra to great heights. We know this community deserves an orchestra of that level of distinction.

During the lockout, the musicians organized several area concerts that drew large crowds of supporters. One of the concerts included Vänskä, who spoke out against the lockout and who resigned in October as the lockout by orchestra management entered its second year. Because of the musicians’ community outreach and concerts, they received an outpouring of support from the local community and throughout the state and across the nation.

The recordings were made in May and June of 2012 and the lockout began in October 2012. The new agreement takes effect Feb. 1, and the orchestra will return to the stage beginning Feb. 7.

In other Grammy news, the band La Santa Cecilia that performed for delegates at the recent AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles received the Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album Grammy award for its “Treinta Días. The Los Angeles-based Mexican American band was named for Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians.

Click here for a full list of winners; and don’t forget that along with the AFM members who took home Grammy awards, the musicians, dancers, stage and technical crews who made last night’s broadcast possible are highly skilled workers represented by several unions, including Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE),Dancers’ Alliance, National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians–Communications Workers of America (NABET-CWA), SAG-AFTRA and others.

Photo from Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Minnesota Orchestra Members Ratify New Deal to End Lockout

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will be back onstage soon after they and the orchestra board of directors have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement that will end the nearly 16-month lockout of the musicians. The agreement takes effect Feb. 1 and performances are expected to begin later that month.

The musicians are members of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) and were locked out by the board in October 2012. In a statement posted today on the musicians’ website, Tim Zavadil, clarinetist and negotiator, says:

The Musicians are pleased that we have come to a solution with our board, and we are ready to begin the hard work that lies ahead together. We are eager to perform for our community at home in Orchestra Hall once again. We have seen firsthand the deep love for this orchestra, and we are confident that this community will, in fact, continue to support a world-class symphony orchestra.

The board had originally sought to cut salaries by 30% or more. While the new agreement cuts salaries, the statement says:

Keeping salaries in the top ten was a critical issue as it allows the orchestra to attract and retain the finest musicians in the country, building on the tradition of excellence that has been cultivated by the community over many generations. The agreement achieves this priority.

During the course of the lockout, the musicians received an out pouring of support from the local community and throughout the state and across the nation.

The Musicians thank each and every individual and organization that has supported maintaining a great orchestra for Minnesota over the past 16 months. We have been strong because of you and we will need your continuing strength and passionate voices as we move forward together. We are excited to work with you, our engaged community partners, as we re-vitalize the Minnesota Orchestra.

In the several years before the lockout, the Minnesota Orchestra was drawing high praise as one of the best in the nation and abroad in 2010, Alex Ross, The New Yorker’s music critic, called the Minnesota Orchestra “the greatest orchestra in the world.”

Read the full statement and more from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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