I never felt poor at my high school in Saint Paul. But that changed when I went to college. I was there on a needs-based scholarship, and many kids’ parents were paying full freight, revealing a level of wealth I had never encountered before. And then I learned that many of the people who worked at our college were making poverty wages – less than $7 per hour. I knew we needed to change this. Some staff members were already talking about change, and I joined them, along with a number of other students. This effort became the Swarthmore Living Wage and Democracy Campaign. After years of determined organizing, the Campaign persuaded the College to raise the minimum wage to $10.38, the equivalent of $13.82 today.
The same dedication to economic justice that motivated me then drives me today. I spent five years prosecuting white collar crime: securities fraud, mortgage fraud, tax fraud, wage theft, and other financial crimes. I represented a group of immigrant restaurant workers, suing the parent company of their employer for wage theft. I’m active in my own union, campaigning for progressive candidates and organizing younger workers. As a member of the City’s Workplace Advisory Committee, I campaigned to raise the minimum wage and for rigorous enforcement of the earned sick and safe time ordinance. And I’m ready to take to the picket lines or the streets with other workers when we need to take a stand -- the photo here is me and my son Theo on our way out to protest with members of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) in 2014.
I refuse to accept that a person who works full time lacks basic comfort and security, for themselves and their family. A living wage. Health insurance. Paid time off if their kid gets sick. I do not see these as privileges for the well-off, but rights that we should ensure for everyone in our state.
More than 100 years ago, labor organizer Rose Schneiderman declared, “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” At my college graduation, when the student members of the Living Wage Campaign walked across the stage to receive our diplomas, we each handed the college president a rose and a small loaf of bread. I believe today, just as I did then, that everyone who works must get a living wage and dignity in the workplace. I hope you believe that, too.
I ask for your support at precinct caucuses on Tuesday, February 6th.
For more information on my campaign, please check out my website at BenforHouse.org.