On West Bank, wages a focus

Organizers in Cedar-Riverside said the median income for neighborhood residents is about $15,000 a year.

The 15 Now campaign development director Robin Wonsley speaks about the challenges African-American men face living in the Twin Cities, which is rated among the worst cities in the nation for racial disparity. She urged attendees to sign a petition that called for a $15 per hour minimum wage in Minneapolis at a community discussion hosted by the West Bank Community Coalition in the Mixed Blood Theatre on Wednesday night.

Joe Sulik

The 15 Now campaign development director Robin Wonsley speaks about the challenges African-American men face living in the Twin Cities, which is rated among the worst cities in the nation for racial disparity. She urged attendees to sign a petition that called for a $15 per hour minimum wage in Minneapolis at a community discussion hosted by the West Bank Community Coalition in the Mixed Blood Theatre on Wednesday night.

Olivia Johnson

Frustrations with low-income jobs boiled over among a group of 20 who called for expanded worker rights on Wednesday night in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
 
 
The event, hosted by the West Bank Community Coalition at the Mixed Blood Theatre, educated residents on the 15 Now campaign, a movement aimed at raising the minimum wage in major cities to $15 an hour. 
 
 
“In Cedar-Riverside, our median income for residents is around $15,000 [a year],” said Nichole Buehler, board member and the coalition’s secretary. “Over half are below the poverty level.”
 
 
Buehler initially proposed that the neighborhood push for a raised minimum wage, which resulted in a resolution in November by the coalition supporting the idea, she said. 
 
 
She said she’s pushing for the initiative to be on included on the 2016 ballot. If passed, all businesses in Minneapolis would be required to raise their minimum wage incrementally over the course of a few years, she said.
 
 
“There could also be exceptions for different small businesses,” Buehler said. “Details have not completely been worked out.”
 
 
Last October, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges introduced the Working Families Agenda, which lobbied for fair scheduling, higher minimum wage and increased amount of sick days. The agenda has since been set aside. 
 
 
Wednesday’s event was the first the coalition held with 15 Now. The goal of the community discussion was to involve West Bank residents and get their feedback, Buehler said.
 
 
“If residents have more money, they will spend more money,” she said. “Our residents really do spend a lot of their money at businesses on the West Bank.”
 
 
Mubashir Jeilani, who lives in Riverside Plaza and works for the Metro Transit Police Department, said the event is a start — albeit a very good one.
 
 
“There should be more [of a push] to initiate ownership,” he said. “[East Africans] are culturally oriented toward entrepreneurship.”
 
 
Burhan Mohumed, who has lived in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood since he was 7 years old, said a $15 minimum wage should be a temporary goal, but advocates should continue to rally for additional changes. 
 
 
“It’s a great campaign,” he said. “You do it all right, and you’re still somehow struggling. We won’t sit around anymore.”
 
 
Buehler said she expects pushback from local businesses but hopes the event educates the community.
 
 
Kip Hedges, a Minnesota organizer for 15 Now, said he initially requested help from the organization to organize a campaign at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. As a result, the minimum wage at the airport was bumped up $1 higher than the state’s at the time and granted workers eight additional paid sick days, he said.
 
 
“This event … stems out of all that,” he said. “Obviously, the East African community in Cedar-Riverside would be one of the most positively impacted communities in Minneapolis because there is a ton of low-wage workers in Cedar-Riverside.”