This morning’s Star Tribune has a story about an up to now untold story behind the “Working Families Agenda” that has been so controversial in Minneapolis. The headline, “Target had quiet talks with labor on Minneapolis workplace rules,” does not accurately describe either the contents of the article or what actually happened this past summer when, as part of the preparation for introduction of an ordinance on fair scheduling, earned sick and safe time, and protections from wage theft, advocates from community groups (CTUL, NOC, TakeAction Minnesota, Working America), and unions met regularly with Target Corporation. Adam Belz writes:
Target Corp., the largest private employer in Minneapolis, worked closely with the backers of the workplace scheduling ordinance that angered many businesses before city leaders dropped it last month.
Target executives helped proponents of workers’ rights craft a rough framework for the ordinance, though one that was less onerous than the proposal that emerged publicly from the City Council, which would have forced businesses to tell workers their schedule 28 days in advance.
The company’s involvement, which until now hasn’t been disclosed, reflects Target’s concern about what shape future scheduling rules will take. While the rule would have affected only a few hundred Target employees — at three regular Target stores and one Target Express in the city — it could have influenced the national discussion on workers’ rights, which affects the retailer because it must deal with the costs of varying work rules across the country.
While the Downtown Council, the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce and others rallied around Working Families Agenda by claiming there was “no problem” to be solved, Target Corp. and many other smaller businesses were engaged with advocates and workers trying to find solutions.
Several of the community groups at the Target table have now had a long history of working with Target, one that stems from years of often tense relationships and friction caused by disagreements we had with the company. TakeAction Minnesota’s Justice for All Campaign, as the article details, helped move Target to implement “Ban the Box” policies internally and support them as public policy for all busineses as well. CTUL’s multi-year campaign to raise standards in the retail cleaning industry not only brought Target to the table as one of the most important retailers using subcontracted janitorial companies, but as a result of that campaign the company adopted a Responsible Contractor Policy for its cleaning vendors.
This background is important as a lesson to advocates. Target was not at the table simply out of the goodness of their hearts. It was the result of years of hard work. That said, now that we have what is, in essence, a community bargaining table with a major corporation, I am happy to praise them for not taking the route that so much of the Minneapolis business community has taken when it comes to low wage workers, looking away and claiming there is no problem to be solved. Target has sat down with workers and advocates to find solutions.
Advocates are used to, while working on policy, sitting across the table from elected officials. If we acknowledge, however, that corporations have enormous amounts of power in our polities, doesn’t it make sense to also mount campaigns aimed at bring those truly powerful folks to the bargaining table as well?
Do we agree on everything while at that table? Of course not. Having a partner willing to talk and problem-solve, however, is invaluable, and that is what is today distinguishes Target from so much of the business community in Minneapolis. While some told low wage workers their problems are imaginary, and while they still plot to ensure those workers do not have access to sick leave, others engage productively. In a progressive city like Minneapolis, this is the model that business should follow.
The Downtown Council and Chamber should dump its consultants who convinced them to wage war against workers and the city and consider there are other paths and models they could follow.