Protesters target St. Cloud temp agency office

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Protesters gathered Tuesday outside a St. Cloud temporary employment agency to decry what they call its shoddy treatment of workers.

At least 60 protesters lined 25th Avenue South outside the St. Cloud office of The Work Connection, a St. Paul-based agency. They criticized the agency’s use of a pay-card method to disburse workers’ wages, said the agency has fired workers unfairly and treats many workers, particularly Somali workers, with disrespect.

Protesters also called on St. Cloud-based GNP Company, which contracts with The Work Connection to fill jobs at its Cold Spring processing facility, to hire workers directly.

The event was organized by the Greater Minnesota Worker Center, a new St. Cloud-based group that aims to help low-wage workers get better pay and working conditions.

Some concerns voiced at the protest were directed at temp agencies in general. Protesters said employers’ use of the agencies creates another hurdle to clear for low-wage workers looking to find steady jobs. Some protesters also hoisted signs calling on lawmakers to boost the minimum wage.

“Workers in greater Minnesota need to stand together in the face of this so-called ‘new economy’ that treats workers like disposable commodities,” said Stephen Philion, an organizer of the protest and chairman of the Greater Minnesota Worker Center board. Philion also is a sociology professor at St. Cloud State University.

The Work Connection was targeted because it’s widely believed by area workers to be the most difficult to work with among local temp agencies, Philion said.

The protesters compiled a list of concerns and delivered it to The Work Connection staff Tuesday. Jeff Wold, vice president of the company, said it will review the complaints and take action if needed.

“We’re committed to fairness; we’re committed to treating people with respect,” Wold said.

GNP spokeswoman Lexann Reischl said the company doesn’t have immediate plans to change its hiring practices.

GNP has contracted with The Work Connection for more than five years, primarily to hire entry-level staff for the Cold Spring facility, and likes the arrangement, Reischl said.

“They provide the support we need when we need it,” Reischl said. “We don’t necessarily want to specialize in the hiring process.”

Mustafe Abdulahi of St. Cloud said his wages came through a pay card that charged a fee every time he used it; he said he wasn’t given a choice to be paid another way.

Wold said The Work Connection employees are given a choice of being paid through a card, check or direct deposit.

Abdulahi said some of what he describes as poor treatment of workers by The Work Connection seems to be directed at Somalis and other immigrants.

He said people who don’t speak flawless English face curt treatment from its staff and sometimes are unfairly eliminated from consideration for job placement.

“We are expecting that they will treat us equally and also that they will treat our community as other agencies do,” Abdulahi said.
source-http://www.sctimes.com/article/20131126/NEWS01/311260036/?gcheck=1
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