As autumn begins, my time as Minnesota AFL-CIO President will come to a close. As I head into retirement, I wanted to thank you and everyone in Minnesota’s labor movement for the opportunity to serve as your president. I especially want to thank everyone at the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, both past and present.
Growing up in a union family and working a union job as a single parent showed me how much of an impact the labor movement has in improving peoples’ lives. It has been a humbling experience to lead a movement that was there for me and my family. However, I would not have had the opportunity to lead if not for the support of the working people of the St. Paul federation.
Nearly 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to serve as the St. Paul Trades and Labor political director. Soon thereafter, you placed your trust in me to serve as president. Together we fought back privatization of city services, passed a living wage ordinance, saved union jobs at RockTenn and formed the St. Paul RLF.
I took what I learned to the Minnesota AFL-CIO when I was elected President in 2009. Working together, we fought back attacks and made gains for Minnesota’s working people.
Together, we elected Mark Dayton, our first DFL governor in over 20 years, and fought a well-funded Right to Work initiative – and won! We successfully advocated for state construction projects that are putting thousands of Minnesotans to work and improving our infrastructure.
We bucked the national race to the bottom, and helped lead a large coalition that convinced the Minnesota Legislature raise Minnesota’s minimum wage for the first time in a decade.
We successfully passed legislation extending unemployment benefits for locked-out workers in Minnesota, and helped secure historic improvements in the state’s worker’s compensation system that increased benefits to injured workers.
We increased union member political participation and opened up new avenues for women and young workers to be involved in the Labor movement, and we built an infrastructure to support affiliate unions in their organizing efforts.
We defied the critics who said our initiatives would weaken the state’s economy. Instead, Minnesota’s economy is vibrant, its unions are intact and lower-wage working people are now earning more. This is especially true when contrasted with other states, like Wisconsin, that went down a very different path and are paying the economic price.
While we certainly have much more work ahead of us, I am confident that we can continue to raise wages and improve the lives of working people in Minnesota.
Earlier this summer, the Minnesota AFL-CIO General Board elected Bill McCarthy as our next president. Bill currently serves as President of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. He is a leader who has already worked for policies to ensure that all working people earn wages that can sustain a family, receive health and retirement benefits and, most importantly, are treated with dignity and respect. Bill will be a great president and I look forward to seeing Minnesota’s labor movement continue to flourish under his leadership.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to lead and serve.
– Shar Knutson, a resident of St. Paul, will retire from her post as president of the state’s largest labor federation, the Minnesota AFL-CIO, this month. Six years ago, she became the first woman elected to the state AFL-CIO’s highest office. Knutson joined AFSCME Local 1842 after taking a job as a public health worker with the City of St. Paul in the early 1980s. She later worked as an aide to former St. Paul Mayor Jim Scheibel and as political director for the St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly, a forerunner of today’s St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.