A proposed wage theft ordinance under consideration in Minneapolis passed unanimously through a city council committee July 29 and is headed for a vote by the full city council Thursday, August 8.
The July 29 vote by the council’s Public Health, Environment, Civil Rights and Engagement Committee to advance the ordinance followed public hearing testimony by workers who shared their stories of experiencing wage theft.
Restaurant worker Mya Bradford related how she was working as a night shift cashier when a manager falsely said her till was short $50. He said the money would be docked from her pay — unless she agreed to have sex with a friend of his. “This type of stuff happens to my friends, too,” she said, including some as young as 16 years old.
Construction worker Gilberto Sarmiento told council members how he worked five months for one contractor but “I never got paid and the total wages were over $10,000.”
“As construction workers, we are really vulnerable to wage theft and labor trafficking,” said Humberto Miceli. “We have daily take-backs.” Sometimes, he said, contractors will issue checks without sufficient funds. “Or sometimes, simply, the employer disappears.”
Miceli also shared how one contractor “kept my wages unjustly — and that is how I got to know CTUL.” With the support of CTUL, a worker center, he went to court but only recovered $1,300 of the $13,000 he said he was owed.
“If at that time, there had been the law we’re asking you to approve, I don’t think that would have happened,” Miceli said.
Restaurant worker Eli Edelston-Stein said, “in 12 years working in the industry… I’ve seen the list of every type of wage theft happening.” He added: “wage theft isn’t just about wages — it’s about power.”
To address that power imbalance, non-union restaurant workers have been organizing with the Restaurant Opportunities Center and non-union construction workers and others have been organizing with CTUL.
Both organizations, along with local labor unions, have been advocating for the city to adopt a local wage theft ordinance to supplement recently-passed state legislation.
“Before I was a union member, I was a victim of wage theft,” reported IBEW Local 292 member Ray Zeran. “It was through an audit this wage theft was caught.”
“Everytime we go to work we create prosperity,” Zeran said. “Workers create that prosperity; it should come back to them.”
Even union members working under a union contract can experience wage theft, reported Iris Altamirano, president of SEIU Local 26. She shared the stories of two Local 26 members who did not receive part of wage increases provided by the contract. “We had to go back and use all our mechanisms to enforce” the contract she said.
Altamirano said the proposed city wage theft ordinance, with provisions mandating reporting of hours worked and paid, “is just, in our opinion, a way for irresponsible contractors — and even responsible contractors — to do what they’re supposed to do.”
Ward 3 City Council Member Steve Fletcher, one of the three co-authors of the ordinance, explained that the goal will be “using the strength of both the state and the city to support workers.”
“We continue to hear the stories of workers in so many different industries,” said Linea Palmisano, 13th Ward City Council Member and wage theft ordinance co-author.
“We get to step up and say, ‘not here,’” said Ward 4 City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham. “Yes, it passed at the state level, but we need to dig deeper.”
Cunningham added that investing in the capacity of the city’s Labor Enforcement Division will be important to making the proposed wage theft law effective.
Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon observed that passing a local wage theft law was part of a “Working Families Agenda” which the City Council adopted in 2015. The Council has adopted two other planks of that agenda — passing a local $15 minimum wage ordinance and also enacting a local earned sick and safe time ordinance. “All we have left is fair scheduling,” Gordon noted, thanking current and previous City Council members for backing the measures.
The full Minneapolis City Council will vote on the proposed “Wage Theft Prevention Ordinance” Thursday, August 8 at a meeting beginning at 9:30 a.m. at Room 217 at Minneapolis City Hall, 350 S. 5th Street.