Bernie Hesse: Politicians, bad laws can’t stop workers from organizing

Bernie Hesse

Bernie Hesse

Our union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, organized a new group of workers in Luck, Wis., the day Gov. Scott Walker signed a Right to Work for Less bill. The workers at Pioneer Care Center, a nursing home in Luck, voted overwhelmingly for a union. The worker win was the bright spot on a day when the labor haters, with the swipe of a pen, further suppressed worker rights in Wisconsin.

In Luck, a group of workers decided that they needed a voice at work and built a strong committee. They fought back against management’s attempts to derail the organizing drive. The union election wasn’t about money, but rather respect on the job, along with working conditions, including better care for the nursing home’s residents.

The UFCW isn’t going to be stopped by RTW or any other attempts to suppress workers’ rights. We have organized the first group of medical cannabis workers in Minnesota, and we are ready to organize the second facility when the opportunity arises. We believe the emerging medical cannabis industry will provide a safe, secure source for patients along with jobs for thousands of workers in the industry. We intend to support the industry with training and legislative advocacy, in addition to ensuring workers’ ability to have a voice at work.

UFCW Local 1189 is part of a coalition working to advance an industrial hemp bill at the Legislature this year, and we see a real opportunity from the Federal Farm Bill of 2014 to set the table for hemp as a new agricultural commodity that can be used as food, fiber or fuel. Minnesota led the nation during World War II in industrial hemp production, and we intend to support the research necessary for the industry to thrive. Currently, hemp is imported from Canada and China. We believe we could create a vertical system of production and processing, perhaps creating a co-op system, which would be worker owned and organized. We also believe that worker-owned systems should be explored as an alternative to the usual owner-driven model. We live in an economic system that could be called the Golden Rules – if you have the gold, you get to make the rules. We will explore how to change that game.

The Twin Cities has many grocery options for consumers. Many grocery stores are union-organized, and we are proud of what we have built up over the years. But we need to put together programs to expand. We are currently meeting with groups of co-op workers at the Wedge, and hope to get to a point where we can achieve recognition. We believe that we can create a co-op worker movement which will allow the co-ops to grow and set standards for several thousand workers in the area.

Finally, it is the mission of our union to organize internally each day. Building solidarity in a worksite is a slow process. Building solidarity is about relationships. It isn’t transactional, but based on human values of support, respect and fairness. We know that solidarity, especially in tough times, works.

Bernie Hesse is director of special projects, legislative and political action for UFCW Local 1189, based in St. Paul and Duluth. He is also a delegate to the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

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