Bobby Kasper: A new year, a new labor vision

Bobby Kasper

Bobby Kasper

After an amazing 2012 political election in Minnesota, we as union members must stay politically involved. It must be a year-round campaign. Our focus is to make sure our electoral gains translate into effective pro-labor, pro-jobs agenda. We must push for policy reform that strengthens the union workers.

After a 22-year hiatus of having a full majority of both houses and a Democratic governor, we have an opportunity to create a better union.

We must learn from our past. Like a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. “History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, Labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack Labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”

We need to not be complacent as union members. The work for us has just begun. We need to be on the offense and develop policies that promote union organizing. Union organizing is our only survival. If we are to make our voice louder we need to have a strategic campaign to organize union workers. We need to be smart and embrace new technologies. Believe me – we have the capability to become the strongest state economy in the United States.

We worked very hard to take back both houses and we worked with a strong cohesive force. We need to work together on good ideas and policy. We are still up against anti-union sentiment, Labor lockouts, right-to-work and change in prevailing wage. Just look at our neighbor states.

The next steps are clear. At a congressional level, the first that we have to do is stop lowering tax rates for the wealthiest Americans and Wall Street. Furthermore, we must work to rein in healthcare costs. As the main driver of projected long-term deficits, a key goal for us will be to get providers (pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and physicians) to deliver care in more cost-effective ways. Medicare must be allowed to negotiate drug costs with drug companies, it should “bundle” payments to hospitals for post-acute care so Medicare pays for results rather than the volume of services provided, and pay-for-delay, and agreements between brand-name and generic drug manufacturers must end.

Critically, the elimination of all tax incentives for exporting jobs overseas would ensure our sisters and brothers have more of a chance to work and pay their own taxes. We can raise further revenue with a .03% tax on Wall Street speculation, letting estate and gift taxes expire at the end of the year, ending special low tax rates on income from stocks and bonds, and increasing taxes for millionaires and billionaires. All told, these changes would net more than $2.5 trillion over ten years.

As for social security, it should not be weakened to pay for any deficit reduction negotiations. It fact, social security should be strengthened by taking off the cap so that all earnings are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. High earners should contribute the same percentage of their income to Social Security as everyone else.

On the state level, there is also much work to be done. It is time to support our unions by giving our state workers the contract they deserve and by passing legislation that financially punishes employers who lock their workers out. Similarly, with a main focus on revenue this legislative session we need to hold out legislature accountable and support Gov. Dayton’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans so we can pay back the money we borrowed from our schools to meet the budget shortfall last year.

For the bonding bill, we cannot take our eyes off of the critical projects that furthers our state and puts our union sisters and brothers back to work. Instead of pushing for an unspecific bonding bill, it is up to our unions to focus on specific projects that we want built. No money should be put toward wasteful projects, but after years of infrastructure neglect in this state – remember when the bridge collapsed? – there are a seemingly endless array of vital projects that need to be looked at.

There is a long road ahead of us but we dare not flinch as we look down it. The unions are the gatekeeper of worker’s rights everywhere and our responsibility is to never let down the fight to make a better state and a better country. Too often we leave the legislative process to others and allow our hard work from the campaign season to go to waste. But not in 2013. In 2013 we have reason to hope that, with a Minnesota majority and with the Democrats’ hand stronger than in the last session, we can continue down the path to prosperity.

This is our time. It should not be wasted. Here’s to a productive, prosperous and historic year for our labor movement in Minnesota. Happy New Year!

– Bobby Kasper is president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, representing 50,000 union members in Ramsey, Washington, Dakota and Chisago counties.

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