Can Retail Executives Live on Their Own Low Wages?

February 24, 2014

Over the past week, five Minnesota lawmakers have taken the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge, calling attention to the struggles of low wage workers by living one week on a minimum wage budget.

But what about the companies that pay those low wages? Do they know what life is like on $7.25 or $8 an hour?

On Wednesday, February 19, workers who are contracted to clean Target stores joined Organizing for Action (OFA) for an event outside of the Target store in Minneapolis to call for a raise in wages for Minnesota workers. At the event, workers called on Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel to take our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and try to live for one week on a budget from $7.25 per hour.

Maricela Flores, a mother of five who works for Carlson Building Maintenance cleaning a Target store, told of the stresses that come with poverty wages and asked Mr. Steinhafel to take the challenge.

“I am a single mother of 5 children trying to get by on the $8 an hour I am paid to clean a Target store,” Flores said, “It must be difficult for the CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel, to understand what it is like to be paid such low wages.”

“In 2012 Mr. Steinhafel made over $9,900 an hour--he does not have to live the constant reality of choosing between paying rent, food, clothes, health care," said Flores, who is a member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), a Twin Cities worker center. "We are calling on Mr. Steinhafel to take the ‘Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and live on $7.25 an hour for one week to understand what we face."

Also speaking at the event was Enrique Barcenas, who works for Prestige Maintenance USA cleaning a Target store. He spoke of the need for homegrown companies like Target and powerful leaders like Mr. Steinhafel to take a lead to ensure that no one willing to work full time should have to live in poverty in our state.

“Every evening I work cleaning a Target store, surrounded by food and other necessities that I can’t afford to buy. The cost of living goes up every year, yet our wages remain stagnant," said Barcenas, also a member of CTUL. "Now is the time for change. It is time for companies like Target to support fair wages for Minnesotan families. It is time for retail janitorial companies to recognize our right to organize.”

The group went into Target headquarters after the rally, but were not allowed to talk with Mr. Steinhafel. They left the guidelines for the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge with the security guards who blocked the entrance and asked for confirmation whether Mr. Steinhafel will accept the challenge to live a week in the shoes of a minimum wage worker. They were not given a response.

On February 25, the Minnesota AFL-CIO and community allies will rally at the Capitol Rotunda in Saint Paul to call on legislators to take action on raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.