My Lan (MJ) was a teenager working at Burger King navigating workplace abuses such as sexual harassment. It was her second job, and she had fun at first.
Speaking through tears at a midday press conference in the St. Paul City Hall. MJ talked about her passion for fighting for enforcement of the Earned Sick and Safe Time (ESST) ordinance.
MJ argued that if employers violate these rules, they should be held accountable.
"The only thing employers care about is money. So take away their money. Freeze their accounts. Freeze their assets. Take away some of their money, and then they will understand," she said. "They know they can get away with mistreating people who are paid very little. That's why enforcement is so important because, without accountability, these businesses will knowingly keep breaking the rules and abusing low wage workers."
For MJ the ramifications of not having access to ESST is wildly felt, "when somebody's not getting paid for the hours they work, it affects more than just them it impacts everybody around them, the whole community."
In a statement read at the press conference representatives from low wage worker center CTUL explained that workers at Saint Paul restaurants have reported a lack of information, access, and payment for paid sick leave since the ordinance went into effect nearly two years ago. CTUL wants to work with the city to make sure that workers have a seat at the table through an advisory committee.
Council member Rebecca Noecker affirmed the impassioned statements.
"Our colleagues worked so hard alongside you to pass our earned sick and safe time ordinance and to raise our minimum wage, and those policies mean nothing if they are not enforced," she said.
Shortly after the press conference, a group of workers and supporters took to the streets to draw attention to Madison Equities, the largest landowner in downtown St. Paul.
Organizers allege that Madison Equities uses a janitorial contractor with a history of labor violations. In many cases, janitors are being misclassified as contractors as a way to avoid new labor standards. Without vigorous enforcement and engagement with the community, these issues will persist.
David Wright with Madison Equities stated, "no comment" regarding questions about the protest or allegations that janitors are being misclassified.
Non-union security personnel from Madison Equity marched along with the protestors counter-chanting and arguing with participants. An unnamed participant observed that the Madison equity security went "buck wild" and "basically trolled us for like 5 blocks."