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'Rochester is changing, but who is it changing for?'

'Rochester is changing, but who is it changing for?'

Stop in any neighborhood in Rochester and residents will tell you that the city is changing — and quickly. In 2013, Rochester announced that the city would undergo a complete transformation under a plan called Destination Medical Center (DMC).  

At first glance, DMC appeared to be flawless: 30,000 new jobs would be created, hip restaurants would emerge downtown and Rochester would be transformed into the medical capital of the world.

However, not too long afterwards, residents began to wonder where these new 30,000 residents would be housed. Other residents were also curious as to why the city had introduced plans for heated sidewalks while roads were crumbling in lower-income neighborhoods.

This was not the only time residents have questioned the behavior of Mayo Clinic. In July 2016, Mayo announced that they would subcontract hundreds of food service employees. Upon hearing the news, food service employees across the city took to the streets.

Following a public and bitter battle with Mayo, workers voted overwhelmingly to join SEIU Healthcare MN, which entitled them to become a part of the SEIU Food Service Bargaining Unit.

As a result of the food service workers' strength and unity, they were able to reach a new agreement with Morrison for a five-year contract. Details of the agreement state that workers will receive increases in wages anywhere from 2.5 to 42 percent, along with better healthcare benefits and a guaranteed a 401k. 

Now, turn sights on addressing the affordable housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the DMC project.

A new community, grassroots organization has emerged: Communities United for Rochester Empowerment (CURE). The reason is pretty simple, according to Leonel Davis, a CURE Member in southeast Rochester: "Rochester is changing, but who is it changing for? High rises are going up, but who are they going up for?  People with low incomes and wages or for wealthy patients and Mayo Clinic executives?"  

According to Davis, DMC is not taking into consideration the concerns of lower income residents who have lived in Rochester for their entire lives, instead electing to put the preferences and wishes of affluent patients who spend short periods of time in the city.

Davis became a member of CURE because she believes that "change always starts with a small group of determined people.  By working together as members of CURE, we can reach out to our neighbors and make a big difference."  

For many residents of Rochester, the idea of a community group taking on a powerful corporation sounds like a long shot, but don’t tell that to Barb Andrews. Andrews was one of the food service workers whose job was She also recalls people doubting as to whether or not they would be able to fight back against Mayo Clinic.

"When Mayo outsourced our food service jobs, we didn't just accept it.  We formed a union and used our power in numbers to fight back. Because we stood up, we recently won a contract that improves our wages and benefits. If we can do this at work, Rochester residents can do it as well, all across our city." 

While records indicate close to 2,000 apartment units have been approved in the last two years, many of those apartments are far out of the price range for lower-income residents and senior citizens. Across the city, many residents think this is unacceptable, especially for a city that prides itself on its livability rankings every year.

For Andrews, it’s much more simple: "Everyone deserves to have a dream, not just the wealthy and powerful.  Everyone should be able to buy and own a home in Rochester."

Thomas Molina is a community organizer with CURE.

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