Labor unites behind Walz for governor

Tim Walz talks with union members at a Helmets to Hardhats event in Duluth last month.

After emerging as the Minnesota DFL’s nominee for governor on primary-election night, Tim Walz today won the endorsement of the state’s largest labor federation, the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

With the endorsement, Minnesota’s unions join forces to elect one of their own to the state’s highest office. Walz worked as a classroom teacher and coach for 20 years before winning a seat in Congress, and he was a member of Education Minnesota, the statewide educators union.

Because of his experience as a teacher and union member, Walz “understands first-hand the importance of protecting working people’s freedom to join together in union to negotiate a fair return on their work,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy said.

Keeping an ally in the governor’s office is the top election-year priority for the federation and its 1,000-plus affiliate unions, which represent more than 300,000 working people statewide.

Union members have much at stake. Since the 2010 election, Minnesota and Gov. Mark Dayton have charted a very different course than most other Midwestern states, where Republican governors have pursued a steady erosion of working people’s freedoms.

Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin passed “right-to-work” laws that weaken unions’ bargaining power. The same three states recently repealed prevailing-wage laws that build fair wages into the bidding process for public construction projects – a direct attack on union tradespeople’s quality of life.

And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker remains infamous for Act 10, a blunt attack on public workers’ wages, benefits and union rights that served as a model for GOP lawmakers in other Midwest states – and aspiring lawmakers, too. Walz’s opponent in the Nov. 6 election, Jeff Johnson, promised during his failed campaign for governor four years ago that he would “go all Scott Walker on Minnesota” if elected.

Dayton, meanwhile, signed legislation expanding collective bargaining rights to more than 20,000 home care workers, and he used his veto pen to fend off Walker-inspired style attacks on public workers and prevailing wage.

Unions trust Walz to govern similarly.

“Working people can count on Minnesota AFL-CIO endorsed candidates to share our values,” Secretary-Treasurer Brad Lehto said. “We can count on Tim and Peggy because they value our freedom to negotiate a fair return on our work, so we can provide for our families; workplaces where we are safe and respected; and the freedom to retire with dignity.”

At a union-sponsored debate in February, Walz told activists he would be an “organizer-in-chief” as governor. “This is about us taking a message beyond the four walls that we’re in,” he said.

He also said he would recruit teachers and high-road businesses from Wisconsin, where Walker’s anti-union agenda has driven educators away from the profession and left wages stagnant.

Prior to representing the 1st Congressional District in southern Minnesota, Walz taught and coached football at Mankato West High School for 12 years. He was named Mankato Teacher of the Year and a Minnesota Teacher of Excellence in 2003.

Walz also served 24 years in the Army National Guard, including a deployment overseas in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He retired in 2005 as a command sergeant major, the highest-ranking enlisted National Guard soldier in southern Minnesota.

Flanagan is a state lawmaker from St. Louis Park and former director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota. She is a citizen of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe.

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