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Low-wage workers, supporters rally for $15-an-hour pay

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Wage protests at the University of Minnesota
Workers and other supporters of a minimum $15 hourly wage, paid sick days and other benefits protested in Dinkytown at the University of Minnesota, Wednesday, April 15, 2015.
Martin Moylan | MPR News

Workers and other supporters of a minimum $15 hourly wage, paid sick days and other benefits staged protests across the Twin Cities Wednesday, including at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and University of Minnesota. The U event drew an estimated 1,000 people.

The protests were part of a nationwide attempt to pressure policy makers and employers to hike wages and improve benefits. 

The protest at the U brought together a diverse collection of labor and community organizations along with students and faculty. They were joined by fast-food, janitorial and other low-wage workers — some of whom said they were on strike.

The event began on Northrop Mall and moved slowly to the McDonald's restaurant in Dinkytown. Marchers jammed the intersection for almost an hour between 6 and 7 p.m., forcing traffic to be diverted.

"Far too often people are working for low wages, no benefits and not enough money to take care of their families," said Mike Griffin, an organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, who was also one of the rally's leaders. 

Many workers from McDonald's were in the crowd. Among them was Antoinette Morris, a full-time college student, who earns about $700 a month at a McDonald's in Richfield.

"My rent is $700 alone," she said. "Workers like us deserve better. We work our butt off every day for companies like this and don't see $1,000 a month."

Wage protests at the University of Minnesota
Workers and other supporters of a minimum $15 hourly wage, paid sick days and other benefits staged a demonstration at the University of Minnesota, Wednesday, April 15, 2015.
Martin Moylan | MPR News

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has said she doesn't want the city adopting a $15 minimum wage unless surrounding cities do the same.

Meanwhile, business groups believe city leaders need to listen to employers concerned about the impact of a mandatory wage increase on their operations and hiring.

There's legislation in the works at the State Capitol that would give workers more predictability with their schedules and provide paid sick days.

DFL Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park believes the legislation would help workers and employers. But he admits the initiatives have little chance of getting through the Legislature.   "I think it would be difficult to project they'll get passed this year, in part because of the makeup of the Legislature," he said. "I think there are more people who perceive themselves to be specifically pro-business or -employer."

But Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman Patrick Hogan said the commission will be discussing what it could do to help improve the wages of people working for cleaning and other airline contractors.

"At this point, the airports commission has not addressed wages for these workers for contractors for the airlines," he said. "But that is something that is going [to be] discussed at the board meeting on Monday and again in May."

In December, the board mandated that the workers get some paid sick leave.

Gov. Mark Dayton wants the lowest paid workers at the airport to get a raise. Dayton has said  that he will urge the Metropolitan Airports Commission to establish a $10-an-hour minimum wage for all airport workers, beginning immediately.

The current state minimum is $8, with scheduled increases to bring it to $9.50 by 2016.