A very core thing that CTUL believes in is respect for the planet we’re on. A lot of our base are low wage workers from Black and Brown neighborhoods. And when we look at the neighborhoods folks are from, they may be in food deserts, maybe there’s a real lack of natural resources or trees, or maybe they’re trying to build up a plant that’s going to pollute your neighborhood. It’s something that our members experience and speak to. The health and preservation of our planet is so essential to workers.
We have a worker who had a wage theft problem when he was doing demolition on a Walgreens on Lake Street that burned down. As we see Lake Street being rebuilt, we want it to be rebuilt with the community at the forefront, and not for developer interests. When we see instances of wage theft in demolition at a Walgreens on Lake street, that’s a red flag, that’s a big alarm to us that we need to have a redevelopment that actually is for green jobs and pro-worker.
Especially after COVID, we saw that workers rights and public health are completely together. You can’t separate them. So if workers are sick or unable to get PPE or paid sick time but they have COVID and they have no other option and can’t pay their rent, if they can’t take a day off that’s gonna impact public safety and public health.
CTUL is on 35th and Chicago. George Floyd was murdered by Chauvin on 38th and Chicago. So very, very, close to home. We’ve been involved alongside Black Visions and Reclaim The Block, in the fight to defund the police. It’s shown, there’s a lot of power in Black and Brown workers coming together.
Through the summer we had a lot of membership conversations where Black and Brown workers were able to speak to their experiences and to police brutality. The cops and immigration are really a part of the same system of policing people. It’s not either or. It’s not them or us. It’s really, we need to stand together and make changes.
Right now, we have in Minneapolis two wage theft investigators and 800 cops. Who are we protecting, when more theft is done by wage theft than by petty theft and burglary? Actually enforcing the law and protecting workers who speak up and come forward with their problems is a big part of what CTUL does.
We see that the same workers who are being exploited to make new buildings can’t afford to live in those buildings or can’t pay their own rent or the materials that are used in those buildings are hurting our environment. And really, the kind of common thread is that we’re doing things so cheaply, labor needs to be as cheap as possible and as quick as possible. And that leads to environmental degradation and labor violations.
Historically, we’ve seen that people in power and corporations want to pit us against each other. It’s like, “If you want this building to be sustainably made, then you can’t have good jobs. It has to be cheap labor.” Or, “if you want affordable housing, don’t expect this project to be union”. And really what we’re saying is that we can’t accept that. They are one in the same issue.
Isa Escalona is the Communications Organizer at CTUL – the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha/Center for Workers United in Struggle