Union volunteers take center stage at Labor 2012 kickoff event

Terri Buttleman of SEIU Local 284 urges union members to get involved in the Labor 2012 political campaign. “Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work,” she said.

Regional labor federations from both sides of the Mississippi River fêted their union volunteers yesterday, hosting a barbecue at the Operating Engineers Hall in Minneapolis to thank activists for helping stave off a flood of attacks on workers during the 2012 legislative session.

The event also kicked off the Labor 2012 political campaign in the Twin Cities, as union volunteers received a preemptive “thank you” for the work they will do to get out the vote for labor-endorsed candidates in November.

The St. Paul and Minneapolis Regional Labor Federations, in partnership with the Minnesota AFL-CIO, are set to ramp up their political campaign this summer, and it was clear from the speeches union leaders made yesterday that electing a pro-worker majority in the Legislature is their top priority.

“We get to choose who is going to be (at the Capitol) for the next two years,” said Steve Hunter, secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. “We need each and every one of us who’s in this room, and we need about 100 more for every one of us in this room. We’ve got to turn our people out to vote.”

If they succeed in electing pro-labor majorities to the Minnesota House and Senate, the state’s union members can be assured that right-wing attacks on workers won’t resurface in 2013. That includes reckless “Right to Work” legislation, which would weaken unions by forcing them to represent workers who don’t pay dues.

Last winter Republican majorities in the Legislature attempted to put RTW on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment. In response, unions rolled out an aggressive grassroots campaign that included member-to-member phone banks, door knocks and rallies at the Capitol.

“You made the calls. You attended the rallies. You were at the Capitol,” said Bill McCarthy, president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. “All of these things led to victories.”

The St. Paul and Minneapolis labor federations also set out to educate the public about the threat RTW poses to workers and their unions. With the help of workers released by their local unions to work on the RTW campaign, the federations hosted 120 briefings on RTW across the Twin Cities area.

Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, thanks union members for their work to keep “Right to Work” off the 2012 ballot. “You are the people that made this thing go away,” he said. “Not forever, but you made it go away this year.”

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 released four workers to the RTW campaign. Local 1005 President Michelle Sommers said her members understand “that in order to keep what we have, we have to find a way to work together. We need to move forward, and we cannot move forward as long as we’re spending all of our time and money on fighting the attacks. We have to become proactive.”

RTW wasn’t the only attack on workers offered by Republican majorities, of course. The list of targets also includes teachers’ tenure rules, nurses’ professional standards and construction workers’ prevailing wages.

St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper compared the 2012 session to a 15-round fight, which unions managed to win by judges’ decision.

“Do you know what the knockout punch is?” Kasper asked. “We need to take both the House and the Senate back so we can help Superman, our governor, Mark Dayton.”

The governor’s chief of staff, Tina Smith, received a standing ovation for the work Dayton’s administration did to fend off – often by veto – Republican attacks. While the governor, a former hockey goalie, has become adept at playing defense during his tenure in office, he would prefer to play some offense next year, Smith said.

“He cannot do that without Democratic, DFL majorities in the House and the Senate,” Smith said. “We need everybody’s help.”

Click to view a gallery of photos from the Labor 2012 campaign kickoff.

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