Minneapolis janitors organized with SEIU 26 won a historic victory this week. Over half will receive $15/hour immediately, representing the largest wage increase in 20 years. It shows that business can afford to pay $15, but they won’t give in without a struggle. Let’s continue the momentum and win $15/hour for every worker by pushing forward to get $15/hr on the ballot in November!
A key component of the strategy was the janitors’ willingness to build a united movement, including shutting down “business as usual” through powerful demonstrations and civil disobedience. Hundreds of allies, including non-unionized low-wage workers in the fast food and cleaning sector, supported SEIU janitors and security guards, presenting a powerful united front to bosses.
Brahim Kone, a St. Paul janitor and leader on the bargaining team, highlighted this by saying “We are fighting for our own families, but we also want our fight to show others that you don’t have to accept the status quo.” He’s right. Their victory shows what’s possible. In Seattle, the movement for $15/hour was kicked off by the victory in Seatac, a tiny suburb, where airport workers won $15/hour through a ballot initiative the year before. Indeed, it’s doubtful anyone would even be talking about $15 without the initial bold fast food strikes started four years ago.
A $15/hour minimum wage offers a path to thrive with dignity for tens of thousands of workers in Minneapolis, not just surviving to make ends meet on poverty wages. Big business will always try to interfere with workers organizing into unions, as they will always try to defeat initiatives like a $15 minimum wage. Building a movement for $15 is a crucial aspect of any long-term strategy for workers' rights and union organizing, and winning $15 would be a concrete step towards addressing the deep racial inequalities we face. Winning $15/hour in Minneapolis would raise the confidence of every worker in Minnesota, putting tremendous pressure on surrounding cities to follow suit.
Taking $15 to the ballot functions like a strike vote: in the face of inaction on income inequality, we’re ready to move forward by taking $15 to a vote by the people most affected by poverty pay. We need to be prepared to act independently of what the bosses want, especially when big business and their allies in city hall refuse to negotiate. The janitors’ victory shows the tremendous collective power working people have to address an unjust status quo, whether it be poverty wages, quality schools and affordable housing, a clean environment or systemic racism.
When we fight together, we win!