Retiree Council president: ‘You can’t just ride off into the sunset’

Ken McInnis

Ken McInnis has been going to union meetings since he was 5 years old. He helped organize a union when he was 15.

It’s no surprise, then, that his union activism has extended into retirement.

A former diesel mechanic and longtime member of Machinists Local Lodge 737, McInnis became president of the Minnesota State Retiree Council last month, when Bill Moore resigned after seven years in the position.

“My dad was a pulp and paper worker, and my mother used to send me with him to his union meetings when I was 5, 6 and 7 years old,” McInnis said. “When I was 15, I was working at a SuperValu store in Eau Claire, and we were lucky enough to organize a union.”

For McInnis, who now lives in Ham Lake, it was the start of a lifetime of support for the labor movement and progressive causes. In between jobs as a mechanic, he worked over 12 years as a business representative for Machinists District Lodge 77. He’s run for state and federal office, held several positions in the DFL Party and served alongside Paul Wellstone in Minnesota’s delegation to the Democratic National Committee.

His latest challenge? Providing direction for the Retiree Council, which provides Minnesota’s union retirees and their organizations with a voice in the state’s labor movement – and an opportunity to remain active in advocating for public policy and political representation that advances their interests.

UA: You took office at the start of a pivotal campaign season. Has it been a baptism by fire?

KM: It’s more work, obviously, in an election year, but it’s work I’m familiar with. I previously ran for state House and state Senate as a labor-endorsed DFLer here in Ham Lake. It’s a district that had about a 37 percent DFL index. I got 39 percent of the vote, so I figure I did alright.

So the election work is not a trial by fire. We’ve also got a lot of programs that we’re working with here, and we’re working to see that retirees have their say.

But for me, I’ve done this stuff for 40 years. It’s nothing new, just a different venue.

UA: What’s driven that interest in organizing and campaign work over four decades and counting?

KM: The old adage is, ‘The world is run by those that come to the meeting.’ I’ve always gone to the meetings.

Looking at the importance of the issues that are before us right now, those issues haven’t really changed a whole lot since I got involved back in 1973. We’re still fighting ‘right to work for less.’ We’re still fighting to make sure Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are going to be there for future retirees, like my three granddaughters. Those are the issues that drive me.

UA: You’re a self-starter when it comes to politics. How do you hope to inspire a similar interest among other retirees?

KM: I’ve always said if I’m lucky enough to engender an interest by one person per year, I’ll feel lucky. But it’s also about walking the walk. If I’m not going to do the work, other retirees are going to look at me and say, ‘He wants us to do it, but he won’t do it himself.’

UA: Where do you hope to see the Retiree Council go as an organization during your time in the president’s office?

KM: Right now we’re keyed in on making sure we win on Nov. 6. That’s the most important thing because if we don’t win, workers in general are going to lose their ability to better their lot.

Beyond that, my plan is to work on organizing the retiree networks out there. Not every union has a retiree chapter. Many have chapters that are more of a social club than an advocacy group. Hopefully we can engage some of them – and we have been – to participate in the council and in the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

It’s important for retirees to understand that you can’t just walk off into the sunset and think that everything’s going to be covered. Greedy people out there – including the party that controls Congress and the President himself – are trying to take everything away from us that they can, like pensions, Medicare, Social Security, our rights.

I’m issuing a call for retirees or organizations that have retirees to get active and put together a retiree organization if they don’t already have one. Join us; join our work. If everybody does a little bit, then a whole lot will get done.

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