St. Paul will join Minneapolis in requiring employers to pay workers at least $15 an hour, if advocates who gathered at City Hall Tuesday succeed in their campaign to raise the minimum wage.
“Too many workers in St. Paul work for wages that are far too low to live on,” said the Rev. James Erlandson, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul and member of the faith group, ISAIAH.
Erlandson was joined by low-wage workers and representatives of several organizations to kick off the campaign for a higher minimum wage. A similar coalition was able to pressure the City of Minneapolis to institute a $15 minimum wage in late June.
No ordinance has been drafted yet, but advocates for the $15 wage are already meeting with Mayor Chris Coleman, who is stepping down at the end of this year, and the candidates who hope to replace him, as well as members of the City Council.
The campaign wants a $15 minimum wage with no exemptions. Businesses in Minneapolis sought – but failed to win – a provision to allow employers to count tips as part of wages. The St. Paul group said tipped employees should receive the same minimum pay as other workers.
Alon Coleman, a member of Teamsters Local 320 and a cafeteria supervisor at Highland Park Elementary School in St. Paul, was among the workers who spoke at Tuesday’s news conference. He works fulltime, is raising a family and is going to school on just under $15 an hour. A higher minimum would raise the floor under all wages and help workers who are stuck at lower pay, he said.
“This would help a lot of my co-workers,” he said.
Yesterday, Target Corporation announced it would gradually raise its pay to $15 an hour in response to market forces. However, Emily White, a former retail worker who is now organizing for Working America, said the company is also responding to pressure from citizens.
“This is not something that they decided to do out of the joy of their heart,” White told reporters. “It was something that was building for the last five years by low-wage workers who have built a movement pushing this nationwide to make sure no one lives in poverty.
“We know that in St. Paul, it has taken way too long to have this conversation. It is shameful that 40 percent of the residents of St. Paul live in poverty. We’re waiting for City Hall to begin this conversation. They need to make it a priority.”
ISAIAH will host a public forum with candidates for St. Paul mayor on Sunday, Oct. 15, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, 285 Dale St. N., St. Paul. The forum, which is open to all, will focus on getting commitments from candidates to a higher minimum wage, the Rev. Erlandson said.
“We need to hold all of our elected leaders accountable to the values we hold dear,” he said.