On a typical Wednesday evening, the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL) building at 3715 Chicago Avenue is still buzzing with energy. The space is full of people telling stories, sharing meals, and deepening relationships. A group of organizers from Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justica, a nonprofit organization that focuses on renter’s rights in predominantly latinx communities, convene in the conference room, strategizing to support and organize renters in the Corcoran neighborhood. In the main room, members of a newly launched CTUL praxis group learn and reflect on their class experiences to deepen their solidarity with working class folx. A hub for organizing, the building is a home for many activists in South Minneapolis.
CTUL purchased the building in 2016 as part of the Raise Worker Voice Campaign, which was launched in early 2017 to amplify CTUL’s work organizing low-wage workers for economic and racial justice in the Twin Cities. The goal of the campaign is to raise $1.65 million in two years to take their organizing to the next level, including paying off the mortgage for the building, leading a Strategic Planning Process to identify CTUL’s next big campaign, resourcing a new leadership institute, expanding CTUL’s organizing capacity, and integrating the arts into CTUL’s organizing work. Notably, the mural on the CTUL building’s south-facing wall was recognized in City Pages as the Best Mural in the Twin Cities in 2018. This year concludes with the campaign at over 85 percent completion, allowing CTUL to broaden their scope for the future.
CTUL’s upcoming annual Gala on Sept. 14 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. marks the last large-scale fundraiser in the campaign. Personal testimonials, live music and movement songs, a photo booth, a collective art piece, and food and refreshments will bring people together to finance future endeavors and celebrate what has been a powerful year of organizing for CTUL.
In 2018, CTUL community members and allies poured into the streets to protest corporate prom (i.e. the Super Bowl), speaking out against city officials using public resources to entertain the wealthy. CTUL also began organizing an active campaign with construction workers in the Twin Cities, with a vision to represent worker’s voices and ensure fair wages, safe working conditions, and an end to wage theft in the industry.
In response to the Trump Administration’s politics of xenophobia, white supremacy, and fear, CTUL took its work to the next level to not only fight back, but to envision and create better futures for low-wage workers.
Their work is far from over.
The fight continues in St. Paul to pass a $15 per hour minimum wage without carve-outs and penalties for tipped employees. Last week, the Citizens League Minimum Wage Study Committee published a 446-page report of recommendations for St. Paul City Council, outlining three scenarios for rolling out a $15 minimum wage. On Sept. 12, city council members will hold a public hearing to gather personal testimonies and input on the report. CTUL leaders, in coalition with $15 Now, are gearing up for the hearing and subsequent listening sessions to keep up the pressure on elected officials and to pass a minimum wage ordinance for all workers in St. Paul.
In the fight for $15, CTUL has also centered a need for enforcement, as wage theft spikes following an increase in the minimum wage. In 2017, Burger King workers organizing with CTUL leaders fought back and won over $200,000 in stolen wages after they were given less than 24 hours notice before nine franchises closed their doors. CTUL has also partnered with the City of Minneapolis to develop a powerful co-enforcement model for the $15 minimum wage and Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinances, placing more power in the hands of everyday workers to stand up for their workplace rights. As the plans roll out, organizers continue to support workers by putting pressure on corporations to pay their workers’ wages in full. Since CTUL’s founding just over a decade ago, the organization has won back over $2.1 million in stolen wages.
The last two years have been marked by critical growth for CTUL At the Gala this Friday, CTUL members, staff, and allies will build community in spite of a challenging economy and political climate. Come share stories, sing and dance, and get to know one another. Together we are stronger, and together we will win.
Sheff Sheffield (they/she) went to the CTUL labor day strike at the West 7th St. McDonald’s in St. Paul in the fall of 2017 and was immediately drawn to CTUL’s welcoming community and powerful organizing. Sheff has continued to volunteer with CTUL over the course of the year, offering social media and communications support for the annual gala and pancake brunch fundraisers. They are grateful to be a small part of the transformative work at CTUL. Sheff is a full-time care worker who lives in South Minneapolis.