In negotiations on first contract, North Star Steel dropped anchor

North Star Steel approached “a new level of absurdity” in an attempt to avoid negotiating a first contract with 30 clerical and sales employees at its Newport facility, The Advocate reported in August 1988.

The workers had voted a year earlier to join the United Steelworkers, but management refused to bargain with the union. After the National Labor Relations Board ruled the company must sit down and negotiate with workers, the company announced plans to appeal the decision.

The Advocate projected the appeal would delay the collective-bargaining process by at least six months, calling it “an example of how the system can be used to stifle the rights of the people it is supposed to protect.”

Steelworkers organizer Mike Denardo put it this way: “They’re delaying us to death.

“With the money they’ve spent on fighting these few workers they could have given them a good first contract with good wages and benefits,” he added.

Unfortunately, the delay tactic lives on among anti-union employers. Look no further than HealthEast, which has been dragging out negotiations with nurses in its Home Care division since they voted to join the Minnesota Nurses Association three years ago. (See story on Page 7.)

North Star Steel dragged its feet into 1990, when the Steelworkers announced plans to target North Star’s parent company, Cargill, with a publicity campaign.

[The Union Advocate’s “This Month in the Archives” feature offers a look back at what the newspaper was reporting from 5 to 100 years ago. Our digital archives are online, searchable and free to anyone. Click here for access.]

Demonstrators targeted Walker Methodist in August 2003.

Demonstrators targeted Walker Methodist in August 2003.

10 Years Ago: Rally for justice at Walker Methodist

Speaking of employers notorious for stalling… In August 2003, more than 400 people marched down South Bryant Avenue in Minneapolis to a rally outside Walker Methodist Health Center, which dragged out contract negotiations with about 340 AFSCME members for nearly five years.

Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the national AFL-CIO, attended the rally. “If you’re not going to live up to the principles of the Methodist Church, why are you using the Methodist name?” she asked.

It was the beginning of a long contract struggle – one workers finally won in April 2008.

50 Years Ago: Labor leaders, Twins players team to lift spirits in children’s hospitals

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Delegates to the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly joined Twins players in cheering up patients at two Twin Cities children’s hospitals in August 1963. Together, they distributed Twins souvenirs and “Miss Union Maid” dolls (dress, decorated with union labels, included!). From left: Assembly President Charles Rafferty (left) and Secretary-Treasurer E.D. McKinnon at Gillette State Hospital; Margaret Kelly of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers at the Shriners Hospital; and Mrs. Tobey Lapakko, chair of the assembly’s Human Rights Committee, at Gillette Hospital with Twins third baseman Rich Rollins, who “was as big an attraction as the gifts,” The Advocate quipped. “Rollins was still able to hold a bat after developing writer’s cramp autographing each of the Twins yearbooks handed out.”

75 Years Ago: Minimum wage faces legal challenge

A law establishing a minimum wage for working women, passed by the 1938 Minnesota Legislature, drew a swift legal challenge from owners of two businesses, a laundry in Detroit Lakes and a café in New Ulm, who claimed the law “would in effect bankrupt them,” The Union Advocate reported.

The plaintiffs filed suit in federal court, and a three-judge panel heard arguments in August 1938.

A number of “interveners,” including the Western Union Telegraph Company, joined the suit. According to The Advocate, these companies were eager to test the validity of the minimum-wage law, which established a sliding wage scale for women workers ranging from $11 per week in rural areas to $15 per week in cities.

The plaintiffs’ suit alleged the state’s industrial commission, in enforcing a minimum wage, “unlawfully, wrongfully, illegally and arbitrarily . . . deprived the plaintiffs … of their property without due process of law,” and in doing so violated the 14th Amendment.

The Minnesota State Federation of Labor said it would intervene to help uphold the minimum-wage law. Presumably, the federation took issue with the argument that laundry and café workers be considered “property” of their employers.

The justices deferred their decision, but the lawsuit was later withdrawn.

100 Years Ago: Plumbers love a parade

As has become customary in recent years, the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation will sponsor a marching unit in the daily parade through the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Labor Day this year.

The event draws hundreds of union members from a wide range of RLF affiliate unions, from teachers and nurses to public employees and members of the Building Trades, all marching together behind Labor’s banner.

It’s a family-friendly, positive event, and – as an added perk – it comes with a free ticket to the State Fair for anyone who marches.

One hundred years ago there were no such enticements for union members in St. Paul’s Labor Day parade. In fact, it was less carrot and much more stick.

According to the Aug. 29, 1913, edition of The Advocate, Plumbers Local 34 was so “dead earnest in its determination to make its part of the Labor Day parade a great success” that it threatened members who failed to participate with financial penalty.

“Every member who fails to appear in the line without a reason that is satisfactory to the union will have to pay a fine of $5.”

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