Union members roll up their sleeves to defend worker rights
By Barb Kucera, Workday editor 17 September 2012
|ROCHESTER - Keenly aware that the future of the labor movement may be at stake, delegates from many unions converged in Rochester Sunday for the biennial convention of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.
|Unemployment remains high, especially for younger and older workers and people of color. Membership in unions continues to slide, as more jobs are outsourced and replaced by technology. Right wing politicians, backed by large corporate donors, have stepped up their attacks on worker rights.
“There’s a lot more work to do,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said, summing up the challenges facing working people. The federation has some 1,000 local union affiliates representing 300,000 Minnesota workers in construction, entertainment, health care, hospitality, manufacturing, public service, transportation and many other industries.
Knutson lauded union members for turning back a proposed “Right to Work” amendment to the state constitution. The amendment would have weakened unions by allowing people to enjoy the benefits of union membership without having to pay dues.
While unions should celebrate their effort to stop Right to Work earlier this year, the same proposal will be back next year if Republicans retain control in the Minnesota Legislature, Knutson said. At the federal level, the Republican Party for the first time has incorporated a Right to Work amendment into its platform.
The Nov. 6 general elections were a dominant topic at the convention.
|AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler addressed the AFL-CIO State Retiree Council convention Sunday, prior to speaking to the federation's biennial gathering.
“This election is going to have a profound impact on our labor movement,” said national AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler. “It’s do or die time, folks.”
Shuler said the labor federation’s top goal is to re-elect President Obama, followed by labor-endorsed candidates to Congress, state legislatures and local governments. The federation also is fighting efforts in Minnesota to amend the state constitution to limit the freedom to marry and the right to vote.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which allows unlimited amounts of money to be spent on federal races, is a challenge for the labor movement.
“If we’re going to counter those big sums of money coming in from Citizens United, we have to battle that machine by coming together and through people power,” Shuler told delegates. That effort includes reaching out to community allies and engaging workers who are not in unions or in some cases not even covered by labor law. These include car wash workers, domestic workers, cab drivers and others who are mobilizing to improve their standard of living.
“This is how we build a real movement of working people, for working people,” Shuler said.
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, endorsed by labor for re-election in November, thanked union members for their support.
|U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar
Klobuchar said she was proud to have worked with President Obama to pass federal health care legislation to provide coverage for more Americans and a transportation bill to fund important projects in Minnesota and create thousands of jobs.
In contrast, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, want to dismantle critical programs like Social Security and Medicare and add more tax breaks for the wealthy.
“We have to decide if we’re going to go forward or if we’re going to go backwards,” Klobuchar said.
She urged union members to talk to their co-workers, families and friends about the importance of the election, “reaching out to our members who sometimes may not vote Democratic and having some straight talk with them.”
At the close of Sunday’s proceedings, delegates pulled out their cellphones and took part in a phone bank to call other union members to urge their vote for labor-endorsed candidates. The AFL-CIO said some 2,000 calls were made.