Kera Peterson: Political action critical to defending our basic freedoms

Kera Peterson

There are just a few weeks left in Minnesota’s legislative session. During this session Republican members voted for a bill that would allow employers to pay less than minimum wage to tipped employees. They supported bills that would weaken teacher licensure, criminalize protest and prohibit teachers from introducing controversial material in their classrooms. They even supported bills in the Minnesota House and Senate to prohibit unions from collecting fair share fees from nonmembers which would be enforceable the day after the U.S. Supreme Court announces a decision to that effect, enshrining a possible ruling on the Janus v. AFSCME case into state law before the ruling is delivered.

Last week the Senate and House Finance Committees put together their omnibus bills, and most of these anti-union provisions are moving forward in one chamber or the other. This is happening despite Gov. Dayton clearly stating that he will not sign budget bills that contain controversial policy provisions into law. At the same time, issues like bonding, tax conformity and pension reform remain unresolved.

The St. Paul Regional Labor Federation wanted to keep union members informed about what was happening at the State Capitol during the legislative session and asked local unions and union activists to join us in the work. Because folks understand the importance of educating members about public policy, union activists volunteered for more than 110 phone bank shifts and attempted conversations with more than 6,600 union members in the East Metro. This work will be expanded on with a series of member-to-member door knocks scheduled April 28, May 5 and May 19.

Many union members have come to think of Gov. Dayton as a hockey goalie defending against a power play. We know he would prefer that his team play offense, and we know that Minnesota’s governor doesn’t have the ability to make laws on his or her own. Because of that, the Regional Labor Federation is planning its electoral work now so that we are in the best position to help elect pro-worker candidates up and down the ticket this fall. The best way for us to do this is by talking with union members about issues they care about, and by getting them to take action on those issues by voting.

We are strongest when we come together in union. This November, Minnesota voters will be asked to choose between candidates who support this basic freedom and those who oppose it.

The Regional Labor Federation is committed to running a robust member-to-member field program that will educate union members about labor-endorsed candidates who support our freedom to join together in union. Our program will include door knocks, phone banks and support for worksite organizing. There will be opportunities for individuals to volunteer and for local unions to mobilize groups of volunteers by adopting a day or night of phoning or co-hosting door knocks. President Bobby Kasper and I invite you and your local union to join us in this work.

– Kera Peterson is political director of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. Learn more about the federation and its work at stpaulunions.org.

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