Two Minnesota labor organizers have been invited to speak at a White House summit on the labor movement. Both lead groups of low-wage workers including fast food employees and janitors, people who typically haven't been represented by organized labor.
"The economy has changed, and large corporations especially are further and further distancing themselves from the responsibility for the wages and working conditions of the workers who produce their wealth," said Veronica Mendez Moore, co-director of the Twin Cities-based workers center Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, or CTUL.
Workers represented by her organization, she said, are often immigrants or contractors who can be harder for traditional unions to reach — "a lot of subcontracting, temp work, part time isolated work, independent contracting all of that."
CTUL has used protests and pressure campaigns to advocate for subcontractors who cleaned at companies like Target. They managed to extract some concessions that encourage contractors to negotiate with union janitors. They've also helped organize fast-food workers in the region and pushed for new worker protections now being considered in Minneapolis.
"These new models of organizing are springing up, out of necessity," she added. "Folks are saying, we have to do something, we just can't continue."
Abdi Ali will also speak at the White House summit. He drives a cart at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where worker efforts recently resulted in raises and eight days of paid sick time per year.
Ali says he plans to share his experiences with other workers at the summit, telling other low-wage workers not to be discouraged. "Be strong and things will definitely change."