Workers from across the state were gathered in Minneapolis for the biennial convention of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, the labor federation of some 1,000 local unions representing 300,000 members. Delegates voted on leadership for the federation, celebrated successful organizing programs and heard from a variety of speakers including Governor Mark Dayton and Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Congressional candidate Ilhan Omar was met with applause when she stated, “If there is any group who knows how to organize, mobilize around any challenge to triumph, it is you guys.” She reminded delegates to work hard on the upcoming election since it represents an unprecedented opportunity to "prepare our democracy to look like one we can believe in, one we deserve.”
Klobuchar spoke to the assembled delegates and congratulated them on their progress, having organized new workers under difficult circumstances. “You guys are pushing back,” she said. Klobuchar further elaborated on the importance of the labor union movement; “Unions are not just good for union members, they are good for everyone in America.”
Klobuchar affirmed the necessity of organizing workers despite their immigration status. “Strength is standing up for immigrant workers,” she said. “We want more workers in unions, we don't want workers in the shadows.”
Klobuchar energized the assembled delegates exclaiming, “We aren’t just resisting, we are insisting on a better way forward for workers.”
Delegates for the two-day 54th Minnesota AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention unanimously voted on Saturday to re-elect President Bill McCarthy and Secretary-Treasurer Brad Lehto to lead the state’s largest labor federation for the next four years.
“Despite setbacks from narrowly decided Supreme Court decisions, working Minnesotans are rising up and joining together in unions in numbers we haven’t seen in years,” said McCarthy, who was first elected as state federation president in 2015. “I’m honored to continue leading the Minnesota AFL-CIO and supporting the working people of our affiliate unions’ efforts to earn a fair return on their work.”
During McCarthy’s time as Minnesota AFL-CIO president, the state’s union membership has grown by more than 48,000 workers. Facing the most consequential election in a generation for working Minnesotans, McCarthy is leading the Minnesota AFL-CIO in its largest and most sophisticated member-to-member political program in history.
Recently, the AFL-CIO rolled out a video encouraging union members to come together to vote for Tim Walz for Governor and Peggy Flanagan for Lt. Governor.
During his time at the Minnesota AFL-CIO, Lehto has worked with all unions – public and private sector, building trades, service and industrial – along with faith groups and non-profit organizations to protect and improve the lives of working people.
“This is a critical time for working Minnesotans and I am honored by the trust the delegates have placed in both Bill and I,” said Lehto. “The labor movement’s best days are still ahead of us and I am excited about what we can accomplish in the coming months and years.”
The state labor federation’s Director of Organizing and Growth Todd Dahlstrom outlined organizing campaigns including homecare among others. In particular, the Delta Airlines campaign was highlighted. Dubbed, “The Walmart of the Airlines,” over 40,000 Delta Airline baggage handlers and flight attendants have been organizing to form a union with the International Association of Machinists (IAW) since 2013. Their efforts compromise the largest union organizing campaigns in the world. Delta is notorious for being a union-busting company since its merger with Northwest Airlines.
Dahlstrom also drew attention to increased organizing as a consequence of the Janus decision including UNITE HERE Local 17 Sky Chef and the AFSCME Strong campaign. AFSCME Members trained on having one-on-one conversations to ramp up internal organizing. At the time, 73 percent were full member; now they are at 91.7 percent. The federation’s ultimate goal is to train 1,000 new organizers.
The AFL-CIO is also leading efforts to retrain displaced workers at two closing manufacturing facilities: Electrolux in St. Cloud and Sealy mattress in St. Paul. Through the Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) Apprenticeship, unemployed workers earn certificates for available manufacturing positions.