Bobby Kasper: The strength of our union family is solidarity

At his retirement party, St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper (L) received a U.S. flag flown over the nation’s capitol from Rep. Betty McCollum, presented by her district director, Josh Straka.

It’s the time of year when families gather together to celebrate the holidays. Those gatherings take many different forms. Sometimes we gather as a nuclear family, just parents and their children. Other times we gather with our extended family, bringing together the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins or in-laws.

The ties that bind us together as family are many, and in that sense, our union movement is like family. Our local unions and bargaining units bring together working people who have the most in common, like a nuclear family. And our international unions and regional councils are like extended family, gathering union members of different stripes under one big umbrella.

In my career in the labor movement, I’ve been fortunate to serve at almost every level of the labor family, from business agent with my LIUNA local and member of Laborers Local 563 to, most recently, president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. I’ve seen how important every branch of the labor family tree is.

Our local unions give us power on the job and a voice at work. The old saying is true: If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu. By joining together and supporting each other, union members negotiate higher wages and better benefits, and we have a say in our conditions of employment.

But everything that we need to thrive can’t be gained at the bargaining table with our employers. That’s where our extended labor family comes into the picture. Labor councils and federations organize on behalf of all union members – all working people, really – for public goods like quality schools, accessible child care, a robust safety net and fair trade.

Like a family, unity is our labor movement’s strength. The stronger our solidarity, the better the contracts we negotiate. The same goes for our work in the community. When we focus on what we have in common as union members, when we focus on improving people’s lives and when we commit to doing the work it takes to make change, that’s when we win.

St. Paul RLF Sargent at Arms Jen Guertin and Executive Vice President Perry Schmidt present Kasper with a resolution recognizing his service to the city, signed by St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and members of the City Council.

As union members, we stand on the shoulders of those who made great sacrifices – sometimes with their lives – to secure the rights and advantages we take for granted today. And we risk losing those rights if we do not stay in the fight. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in Wisconsin, ask a union member there how Scott Walker’s two terms as governor turned out.

It falls on us, as union members, to take on the work of protecting our union heritage. That means committing to volunteer with your union, particularly during election season, when organizations like the Regional Labor Federation lead the push to elect leaders who share our values.

I pledge to continue giving my time even as I make the transition into retirement this winter. My last day as president of the St. Paul RLF will be Dec. 31, but I promise I’ll be back to help out when the time comes.

I may be leaving my union job, but I am definitely not leaving my union family. I moved to Minnesota to make a positive life change in 1992, but I had no idea just how much it would improve my life – and that’s because I was a union member. The relationships I have developed in the local labor movement mean everything to me.

I want to thank everyone who has befriended and supported me over the years, and all the unions that have contributed to our work at the Regional Labor Federation. I want to especially thank Laborers Local 563 Business Manager Joe Fowler and IBEW Local 110 Business Manager Jamie McNamara for putting together my retirement party.

I’m lucky to have moved here and lucky to have found a home in this union family, and I will never forget it.

Happy holidays!

– Bobby Kasper was elected president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, in October 2009 and will retire at the end of December 2019. The St. Paul RLF unites over 100 affiliate unions representing nearly 60,000 people who live or work in Chisago, Dakota, Ramsey and Washington counties.

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