Estela Tirado (center), a downtown Minneapolis worker, speaks at a workers' rights rally at Minneapolis City Hall on Thursday, September 21, 2023. Credit: Alfonzo Galvan | Sahan Journal

Worker rights groups from different industries joined forces outside the Minneapolis City Council offices Thursday afternoon and renewed their call for the city to establish a labor standards board.

Veronica Mendez-Moore, co-director of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), a worker’s rights and advocacy group, said it’s urgent that the City Council and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey take action.

“Our intention is to pass this by the end of the year. It’s been too long,” Mendez-Moore said. “Workers have been working under these conditions since before the pandemic and even worse during the pandemic, and we need to get this passed this year.”

A labor standards board establishes standard working conditions for different sectors, and also addresses issues raised by workers, including wage disputes. Such boards typically include representatives for workers, local government, and employers.

A majority of the City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey supported the creation of a labor standards board for Minneapolis in the summer of 2022, according to reporting from the Star Tribune. Council members and Frey were not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Thursday’s press conference was organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and included childcare workers, downtown condo workers, rideshare drivers, and childcare workers.

Johanna Villa, a childcare teacher at Seward Childcare Center, said she’s spent the last six years of her life teaching children how to write, count, and tie their shoes.

Villa said her responsibilities go beyond preparing kids for kindergarten. She’s taught children how to express their feelings, whether it’s feeling mad at not being seen or sad about missing a parent. She teaches them how to advocate for themselves.

But, she said, it doesn’t pay much.

“Childcare teachers like me—people with degrees and years and years of experience who dedicate our day to teaching your children and caring for your children every day—earn an average of $13.75 an hour with no benefits,” Villa said.

It’s something that’s led her to rethink her career path and has her considering leaving the childcare industry. Villa said it’s important to have a labor standards board to help advocate for different workers like herself.

“I would love to retire from being a preschool teacher. But financially, I will soon be forced to leave the profession if I have any hopes of owning my own home, having children, or even building a savings account,” Villa said.

Other workers also shared their struggles.

Estela Tirado, who described herself as a downtown worker, spoke in Spanish about her struggles working in northeast Minneapolis. She said she was fired without reason while she was pregnant.

“I got pregnant; that wasn’t good news for my boss,” Tirado said through an interpreter. “They were pressuring me with more work to do every day.”

Tirado said she eventually began working a different job in downtown Minneapolis, where her new employer wasn’t paying her minimum wage. Thanks to CTUL’s help, she said, she eventually received her “stolen wages.”

“Now I’m getting my minimum wage, which is the fair thing to do,” Tirado said.

More workers from different sectors have joined the cause, most notably the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association that represents rideshare drivers across Minnesota. Those drivers are considered contractors by the companies that employ them, and have been pushing for better wages and rights both at the city and state levels. 

A Minneapolis ordinance and a separate state bill aimed at improving wages and workplace conditions for rideshare drivers were vetoed earlier this year by Frey and Governor Tim Walz, respectively. Frey and Walz have said they support increased wages for rideshare drivers, but disagreed with the approach in their respective governmental bodies. 

An ordinance proposal to establish a labor standards board has not been introduced in the City Council, but Mendez-Moore said the goal is to get an ordinance passed in Minneapolis by the end of 2023.

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...