Deb Howze fought hard to get a union. Now, the home care worker from Minneapolis is fighting to stop politicians like Doug Wardlow from taking it away.
The state’s home care workers have successfully bargained for wage increases, paid time off, holiday pay and new training opportunities since organizing with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota four years ago. But they also have become the target of corporate special interests trying to roll back those gains with lawsuits and phony anti-union campaigns.
“If Doug Wardlow were attorney general, he would join these attempts and try to reverse the progress we have made,” Howze said.
How can she be so sure?
Hostility toward unions and attacks on workers’ freedom to join together form a common thread running through Wardlow’s career. Howze and other union members traced that thread during a press conference today in St. Paul with the labor-endorsed attorney general candidate, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
During the two years Wardlow represented Eagan in the Minnesota House, the Republican led efforts to get a “right to work” constitutional amendment on the ballot, cut state employees’ pay and repeal a state law requiring local governments to ensure women are paid the same as men.
Joe Fowler, business manager of Laborers Local 563, said Wardlow also attacked Minnesota’s prevailing wage law, which builds fair wage and benefit standards into the bidding process for public construction projects. For people who work in the Building Trades, Fowler said, having an attorney general who enforces prevailing is critical to their standard of living.
“Laws only protect the honest from the honest,” Fowler said. “Enforcement is what keeps the dishonest from taking advantage of the honest.”
By contrast, Ellison has earned the trust and support of union members as a dependable, energetic advocate on workers’ behalf.
“Our members know Keith has stood with them over the years on every front,” Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary C. Turner said.
Jennifer Christensen, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, said Ellison understands the economy is rigged in favor of corporations and the rich, and they too often treat workers “with little regard, as mere commodities and numbers.”
Ellison, she added, is someone union members can trust to hold corporations to their obligations during mergers, acquisitions, relocations and other “stressful” events.
“We need an attorney general who’s going to hold these big companies responsible and accountable if they don’t … honor their union contracts,” Christensen said.
On the campaign trail, Ellison has said he wants to be the “people’s lawyer.” He has pledged to crack down on corporations that violate safety regulations or don’t pay workers what they are owed. One report estimates wage theft costs 390,000 Minnesota workers – from a wide range of industries – nearly $12 million each year.
“I think it is the job of the Minnesota attorney general to stand with workers and say, if you put in a hard day’s work, you will get a hard day’s pay,” Ellison said. “But it’s not enough to have good laws; we’ve got to have good people who enforce those laws.”
Ellison also promised to defend working people against the corporate special interests funding legal attacks – like the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Janus decision – on their freedoms.
“These special interests already have high-powered lawyers on their side,” Ellison said. “They don’t need another one in the Attorney General’s Office.”