Walkout puts spotlight on need for higher wage


On a day where thousands of low-wage workers participated in a national strike, retail cleaning workers joined together through CTUL, the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha/Center Workers United in Struggle, a Twin Cities workers center, held a rally in support of their efforts.

Workers in more than 50 cities walked off the job as part of a national strike calling for wage increases and the right to form a union without the fear of retaliation. Many of the cities are part of the Fight for 15 Coalition, where workers are asking to be paid a living wage of $15 an hour to support their families without having to rely on government assistance. Despite the fact that 2013 has been, as the New York Times called it, the “golden age of corporate profits,” workers in the retail and fast-food industries have seen their wages stagnate.

Workers are sending a strong message to the billion-dollar corporations that employ them that they are no longer willing to work for minimum wage and struggle to pay for basic necessities while profits soar. The first fast-food strike took place in New York last November, emboldening additional workers across the country to strike for a living wage, leading to today’s explosive wave of strikes.

Workers from CTUL, a worker-led organization based in the Twin Cities that is organizing for fair wages, fair working conditions, and a voice in the workplace, were joined at the rally by allies from faith, labor and community groups. CTUL members described why they participated in two unfair labor practice strikes ttrikes this year and the benefits they have already seen because of their collective actions.

“We went on strike twice this year, demanding the right to organize without fear of retaliation,” said Enrique Barcenas, employee of Prestige Maintenance who cleans a Target store. “Because of the actions we have taken, Target has opened dialogue with employees of companies that clean their stores. We are hopeful this will lead to long-term change, but we are prepared to take more action if necessary.”

After the rally, retail cleaning workers led delegations into a nearby Target store to talk with the manager about their concerns. Like workers across the country, the retail cleaning workers in Minnesota simply cannot survive on the low wages they are paid.

“I am a single mother with four children. Eight dollars an hour is not enough to survive on – we have to share a trailer with other families to be able to afford rent,” said Maricela Flores, employee of Carlson Building Maintenance employee. “As retail janitors we are surrounded by food and clothes every evening at work, yet we cannot afford to provide for our own families. I am organizing for fair wages.”