The 2015 “Global Goes Local conference: the Social Conditions of Immigrant Workers and Families in Minnesota” featured keynote speaker Veronica Mendez Moore, an organizer from Cetnro de Trabadajores Unidoes en Lucha (CTUL), on Tuesday in the Cascade room.
Starting at 12:30 pm, she started her lecture titled “Immigrant Workers and Building Low Wage Workers’ Power in the Twin Cities.”
Moore began her lecture explaining what CTUL does, citing an example as workers in need of aid from wage theft, receiving fair wages and safe working conditions.
“The reality is, we’ve forced the employer to follow the law,” she said.
She explained that because of the economic shift, millions of jobs are going overseas, not on U.S. soil, and many companies are taking advantage of this by getting away with something illegal.
The Minnesota department of Labor and Industry has four people investigating cases of illegal action in the entirety of the state. Therefore, it’s easier for companies and employers to take advantage of employees, she said.
“What incentive do employers have to do the right thing?” she said expressing that if employers do get caught, they usually end up paying about half of the wage stolen.
The low wages impact an employee’s family life, their quality of life and health, citing a poor neighborhood is likely to live 8 years less than an upper class neighborhood, she said.
Moore said that janitorial staff and low-wage workers are completely blocked from negotiating for fair wages and safe working conditions, and that many workers don’t have a safe venue to negotiate with their employers and the companies they work for. Large corporations subcontract work to other smaller companies, that most employees like janitorial staff members, may clean a store but not actually work for the company, relieving them of the responsibility for their janitorial staff.
Moore addressed the minimum wage issue in the U.S. She explained minimum wage is still a poverty wage that most people are not capable to live off of. According to Moore, when workers do get a pay raise, their workload is doubled, and usually deprives workers of time off, time with their families.
“Organizing how we did 60 years ago won’t get us anywhere,” Moore said. “Experimentation is how to make change.”
Moore told a story about a group in Florida facing 10 cases of modern day slavery that picked tomatoes. Instead of going after the company that hired the tomato pickers, the workers went to college campuses and got help from students, who then went after the businesses that purchased the tomatoes. After banning some of the restaurants from campus, many of the companies involved ended up increasing the workers’ pay.
Moore also shared a story of CTUL in action. Janitors at Cub Foods wanted more money for their jobs. Many weren’t able to support their families and were working long hours. CTUL didn’t approach the contractors who hired the janitors, but went after Cub Foods.
The group took part in a 12-day hunger strike at the Cub Foods on Lake Street in Minneapolis. After 12 days of the group picketing, media attention and attention from the community, Cub Foods agreed to increase wages. This not only accomplished the intended goal of giving the janitors fair wages, but created a system to organize a union for the janitors.
The Responsible Contract Policy that CTUL encourages is made up of four points. The first, contractors can’t force workers to work for seven days, followed by health and safety training being required including handling possibly hazardous cleaning chemicals and appropriate safety gear for handling chemicals. The third, there’s a committee chosen by the workers, and the final, any contractor must sign an agreement with the union.
Moore then showed a video, which featured testimonials of participants from a strike, praising CTUL for their help. Moore closed out her lecture telling about the group’s fight to raise the minimum wage to something more realistic.
“Workers don’t want to fight. They fight because they have to. The streets are our venue,” she said.