2015 Changemakers: Ginger Jentzen and advocates for fair wages

Ginger Jentzen
Photo courtesy of Ginger Jentzen

“We can build on the victories for $15 and move more workers into action, organizing ourselves to fight for social and economic justice for working-class people.”
– Ginger Jentzen

Ginger Jentzen is an organizer for the local chapter of 15NOW, a national organization that advocates for a $15 minimum wage.

Last spring she campaigned – along with other organizations such as Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, TakeAction Minnesota, Working America and the AFL-CIO – against a proposed “tip penalty,” a plan launched in the Minnesota House of Representatives to modify minimum-wage laws and allow restaurants to pay tipped employees a lower base wage. It would have frozen servers at an $8.00 minimum wage, even as the bottom wage for non-tipped employees rises.

That legislation was defeated, and Minnesota remains one of only five states that have the same minimum wage, whether the worker is tipped or not. Every state that borders Minnesota has a dramatically lower sub-minimum wage carved out for tipped employees – for example, $2.33 in Wisconsin.

“It was a big victory for workers,” Jentzen says.

Her interest in labor organizing was inspired by her own experiences in the restaurant industry, sometimes working multiple jobs alongside women who were working to support their families. The working conditions she saw prompted her to join 15NOW as an organizer and to speak out on behalf of all low-wage workers, especially women.

According to a report from the Aspen Institute, over 9.5 million people worked in restaurants and bars in the U.S. and 52 percent of these workers were women. Women and people of color tend to be concentrated in lower-paying jobs in the restaurant industry – truly making this a women’s issue.

As Jentzen sees it, there’s much more at stake than a fair wage.

“Minnesota has some of the worst racial economic disparities in the country, but the divides we face are a national problem. The fact that there’s a broadening discussion in Minneapolis about the racial and economic disparities faced by workers in our city is a result of workers standing up to demand their rights, and it’s powerful to see these workers pushing for political change,” she says.

Jentzen thinks it’s no surprise that there’s overwhelming public support for $15 per hour minimum wage. “The Democratic National Committee endorsed the demand for $15 at their convention in Minneapolis in August because of the pressure of a growing workers’ movement nationally,” she says.

“Across the U.S., anger against wealth and racial inequality is reaching a boiling point. The $15 demand is a concrete expression of the movement against racism, corporate greed and political inaction. In Minnesota and beyond, it’s become a mainstream conversation with workers at the forefront, fighting for their rights,” Jentzen says.

She compares workers’ efforts now to the struggle for the eight-hour day in the 1930s. Says Jentzen, “We can build on the victories for $15 and move more workers into action, organizing ourselves to fight for social and economic justice for working-class people.”

One way to join the fight for social and economic justice is to sign up at 15NowMN.org and follow #MplsWorks on Twitter.