When Stephanie Gasca of the Twin Cities-based workers center Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) began the ReFrame Mentorship in 2016, she and CTUL were at the beginning stages of integrating communications into their work.

Gasca was completely new to communications, and CTUL had never before had a dedicated communications staff person. This lack of capacity and practical experience meant that the voices of their members — primarily low-wage workers — were missing from the public discussions around fair wages, paid sick days, and other critical workers’ rights issues. “We do so much amazing work at CTUL, but we weren’t getting the proper recognition in the press,” Gasca noted.

In the past several months, and with the support of ReFrame, things have changed. Through the communications work that Gasca now leads at CTUL, important decision makers and members of the press see low-wage workers of color as well as immigrant workers as key leaders in the workers rights movement in the Twin Cities.

“Now we’re getting the recognition, our folks are getting quoted, and we’re getting calls, emails, and requests to interview our leaders and find out what we’re doing,” Gasca said.

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How lifting up workers’ stories led to paid sick days for all

In May, CTUL and other advocates won a major victory when the Minneapolis city council unanimously approved paid sick days legislation for all workers at businesses with six or more employees. A few months later in September, St. Paul’s city council passed an even more expansive paid sick days bill. In both of these campaigns, CTUL played an important organizing role, and a critical communications role as well.  For the Minneapolis paid sick days bill, Gasca and a CTUL leader from the fast food campaign sat on the Workplace Partnership Group put together by the Minneapolis City Council. The group consisted of labor organizers, business representatives from a range of industries include healthcare, and nonprofit representatives.

As Gasca put it, placing CTUL members’ stories at the heart of their strategic communications plan was key in moving councilmembers in the Twin Cities to support this legislation. “These really are horror stories, people losing their jobs because they had to take time off because their baby is sick and then told, ‘You know what, nevermind, don’t come back,’” she said. “Often times decision-makers have never lived that experience before, and they don’t know how crucial it is to have these kinds of benefits.”

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Low-wage workers in the Fight for 15

CTUL and their allies have also been leading the Fight for 15 in the Twin Cities and have been waging what Gasca described as “an uphill battle” to raise the minimum wage in Minneapolis, a city that, as she noted, has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation.

While CTUL leaders like Blanca Gonzalez, a McDonald’s worker and immigrant from Mexico, were some of the first to join the fast food workers’ strikes in Minneapolis, they weren’t the public face of the campaign. 

Gasca and CTUL recognized the need to ensure that the public narrative around the Fight for 15 and fair wages included the voices and needs of workers and families. “Having a strategic communications plan around this campaign has been key in keeping the momentum going and getting our side of the story out to the world,” Gasca said. “Through our communications plan, as a coalition, we have been able to highlight the faces and the real stories of the folks who are on the frontlines and who are living with the realities of not making a living wage.”

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By sharing the stories of workers like Blanca Gonzalez, CTUL and Gasca are shifting the story of who is impacted by low wages and making sure that immigrant workers are part of narrative. According to Gasca, telling a broad array of stories about the need for higher wages was critical in the coalition’s getting a $15 minimum wage charter vote on the ballot this November. And while the charter vote has since been blocked by the Minnesota State Supreme Court, organizers are now calling on the city council to pass a living wage ordinance. 

Ultimately for Gasca, the work she and CTUL are engaged in is not just about the “inclusion” of workers’ voices — it’s about transforming “the pain we go through every single day as folks of color and turning it into power through organizing and reframing our narratives.” 

Being a part of ReFrame showed Gasca the importance of having a strategic communications plan that goes hand-in-hand with the organizing work. “If we don’t have that communications component, then everything can just fall apart,” she said, adding, “Strategic communications with good organizing can change the ways our cities operate.”

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