‘In this economy, people need a safety net – not a noose,’ said Bernie Hesse of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 789 at a midday rally on the Capitol steps Monday. A coalition of organizations, including several unions, held the rally and protest in expectation of the budget cuts to be announced by Governor Tim Pawlenty Tuesday.
Pawlenty faces a projected $4.2 billion deficit over the next two years that he pledges to fix by cutting programs instead of raising taxes. Ten days ago, Pawlenty addressed the current state shortfall by cutting programs which disproportionately affect the poor, rally organizers said.
‘The people who made a lot of money in the last years – they should be the ones paying for that (cuts),’ said a spokeswoman for the Welfare Rights Committee. The crowd responded by chanting ‘Chop from the top’ and ‘Spread the pain – tax the rich’.
Pawlenty does not have a mandate from the people of Minnesota because he only got 38 percent of the vote, said Phyllis Walker, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800. Walker added that a freeze on public employee pay would amount to a tax on those workers.
‘We aren’t overtaxed. We have been taxed in order to give decent services to the people of the state,’ said Martin Goff, director of organization for the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 17. Goff said Pawlenty’s agenda also includes legislation to eliminate the state’s ban on ‘tip credit’ for workers in the hospitality industry.
Minnesota is one of the few states that requires employees to pay full minimum wage to wait staff, hotel workers and others, regardless of the tips they receive. Most states allow companies to pay as little as $2.13 an hour, under the theory that a worker’s tips make up the difference.
The crowd moved inside the state Capitol building in order to ensure legislators would hear its message. School children, including the Girls Rock the Capitol group, arrived to tour the building during the rally.
Julia O’Donoghue, a senior at Macalester College, is an intern with Workday Minnesota and the Union Advocate newspaper.