2015 Facing Race Ambassador Award

Racial & Economic Disparities in Minnesota Workplaces

Facing Race Award Lucila Final

Lucila Dominguez, 2015 Facing Race Ambassador Awardee

For years, I moved from job to job, trying to find a place that treated workers fairly. But at each job, I’d find the same injustices. So instead of changing jobs, I decided I would try to change the system. I would try to change the workplace.

I joined hundreds of other low-wage workers of color who are standing up and organizing with the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL). Together we are doing our part to create healthy communities that ensure economic, social and racial equity. Over the past seven and a half years, CTUL has partnered with hundreds of low-wage workers of color to recover over $1.8 million in stolen wages. Through these campaigns, CTUL has won significant workplace improvements for over 5,000 low-wage workers of color, bringing an estimated $3.9 million per year in additional income into the poorest communities of color in the Twin Cities metro area.

Now we are calling on large Minnesotan corporations like Best Buy to follow the leadership of low-wage workers of color, by working together to create healthy communities.

Poverty wages and racial inequity are intricately connected, with communities of color facing the brunt of poverty. Shockingly, Latino children in Minnesota are three times more likely to live in poverty than white children! Overall, children of color make up 94% of the children living in poverty in Minneapolis.

Let’s take a second to reflect on the stark inequities faced by thousands of working Minnesotan families who live below the poverty level. According to the United State Census Bureau, the poverty threshold for a family of four in 2012 was $23,492 per year. Tens of thousands of working families in the Twin Cities fall below the poverty level despite working full-time jobs:

  • The average annual pay for 111,139 restaurant workers was $14,779
  • The average pay for 12,768 janitors was $19,770
  • The average pay for 12,491 hotel workers was $22,633.

Living on sub-poverty wages has severe consequences that impact equity in our community in both access to basic needs as well as the ability to actively participate in building stronger communities. Take for example families working in the fast food industry. The average monthly pay for a fast food worker in the Twin Cities in 2012 was $1,044 per month. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Fair Market Rent for a 2 bedroom rental in the Twin Cities is $946/month. Without even considering taxes, this leaves $98 per month to cover food, transportation, and other basic living expenses.

All of this is compounded by the fact that low-wage workers frequently face “wage theft” – the underpayment or lack of payment of wages. A 2009 study by the National Employment Labor Project found that low-wage workers in major metropolitan areas lose on average $2,634 annually due to wage theft.

The reality is that tens of thousands of workers in the Twin Cities metro area, the majority of whom are people of color, have to make impossible decisions every day between paying rent, buying enough food for their families, or taking their sick child to the doctor. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the combined stresses of living in poverty mean that the poorest Minnesotans live an average of 8 years less than the wealthiest Minnesotans.

One would hope that the corporate leaders in our community would invest in changing this reality. But when we look at the behavior of some Minnesotan companies like Best Buy, it would appear that they support a very different agenda – one that benefits the wealthiest Minnesotans while keeping tens of thousands of working families of color impoverished.

The CEO of Best Buy receives the equivalent of over $6,700 per hour. Think about that for a minute. One person – the CEO of the company that employs the third largest number of workers in the state of Minnesota, and the company that is the 12th most profitable company in the state with an astounding $722 million in profits – makes more than the combined annual income of 830 minimum wage workers!

And how does Best Buy invest its resources? Best Buy, as a core leader in the Minnesota Retailers Association, is actively lobbying to:

  • Deprive minimum wage workers of basic increases tied to inflation,
  • Prevent working families from getting basic benefits such as paid sick days, and
  • Prevent municipalities from passing policies that improve conditions for low-wage workers of color.

At the same time, Best Buy avoids investing in the infrastructure of the state by booking profits to subsidiaries registered in offshore tax havens, including an estimated $1.4 billion in offshore tax havens.

Some companies have chosen a different path. Target Corporation has agreed to a series of meetings with low-wage workers of color who are members of CTUL along with other community members to talk about the role that the company can play in improving community health and in extension economic, social and racial equity. Target recently adopted a Responsible Contractor Policy regarding the contracted cleaning of Target stores, ensuring a path towards fair working conditions and a voice in the workplace for the janitors who clean Target stores in the Twin Cities metro area. While much more needs to be done, Target has taken the first steps.

Low-wage workers of color who are members of CTUL, like myself, are stepping up. We refuse to follow the vicious cycle of changing from job to job, stuck in a system of economic, social and racial inequity. Instead, we are working to change the jobs where we are, proactively working to build healthy communities for everyone.

Target Corporation has demonstrated interest in following the leadership of low-wage workers of color. We are calling on Best Buy and other Minnesotan corporations to step up as well so that together we can establish economic, social and racial equity for all Minnesotans.