What are We Working For? Pay Equity.

After months of furloughs, fear, and risky front-line work—COVID-19 restrictions are loosening as our workload continues to increase. As this occurs, Local 2822 is working hard to prepare for contract negotiations. And, results from an April 2021 member survey indicate that—not only do we want a hike in the minimum wage—we want pay raises across the board.

Recently, the county passed a new $20 an hour minimum wage. Out of the gate, this is a positive first step to the upcoming negotiations. Quoting Hennepin County Commissioner Irene Fernando from a March 23rd Star Tribune article, by Max Nesterak, “We as the county do not believe that our own workers should be living in poverty or should be receiving assistance.”

However, there is bargaining to be done. Many Local 2822 members have worked for years to reach $20 an hour and now find themselves near the top of their pay scale—getting paid nearly the same amount as new hires. The hourly wage of an Office Specialist II, for example, caps at just over $21.50. Thus the raise to a $20 minimum has created a divide between new workers and workers with longevity—leaving the latter with little incentive for continuous improvement and little incentive to mentor incoming workers. It has also left new hires with a cap of $21.50 and in the same boat.

And, although a $20 per hour wage is leagues better than the federal minimum of $7.25, $20 barely allows one to afford to live in Hennepin County.

For example, through research conducted by Local 2822, we found that the average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis is $1,443 a month. Our source points out that, “In order to qualify for an apartment, you need to make [three times] the rent, which [equals to] $4,329 per month. $4,329 per month [is equal to] $27.05 an hour.”

So, in Minneapolis, $20 an hour still doesn’t cut it. However, as we enter into the upcoming contract negotiations, Hennepin County’s recent minimum wage increase could be a starting point to achieve truly livable pay.