Backing the emergent campaign for a $15 minimum wage in St. Paul is the right thing to do, labor leaders said in a meeting with AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler last night. But as unions look to reverse the trend of declining density, joining the fight to raise wages is also about remaining relevant.
“We want the union movement to be seen as out there fighting for working families beyond just our members,” Shuler said. “It’s our job to make the labor movement relevant to everyone who works for a living, and I think that’s what raising wages is all about.”
Shuler, the second-ranking officer in the nation’s largest labor federation, joined St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper at the East Side Freedom Library in leading a frank discussion about the AFL-CIO’s Raising Wages Agenda. St. Paul and Minneapolis are among the 13 cities targeted by the AFL-CIO’s campaign.
Shuler emphasized there’s no “cookie-cutter approach” cities must follow, but what most campaigns have in common is a focus on electing candidates who pledge to support working families – and holding them accountable.
Kasper said the St. Paul RLF, which unites more than 100 local unions in Ramsey, Washington, Dakota and Chisago counties, aims to do more than increase the city’s minimum wage. The RLF and its community partners – including faith-based, progressive, minority and immigrant-rights groups – plan to form a St. Paul Works coalition to advocate for policies stepping up enforcement of wage theft, guaranteeing access to earned sick time and supporting fair schedules.
15Now’s push to raise the minimum wage and improve working conditions in cities across the country, Kasper said, “is a golden opportunity to get together with community groups and work on common goals, common interests. But we need buy-in from the unions.”
That investment will pay off for unions in the long run, Kasper added. “We need to have the community working with us. We’re a small speck in the community. But if we can take the lead and not be ashamed of who we are … then when we run organizing or political campaigns in the future, we’ve got the community on our side.”