Kera Peterson: Your work is essential, and so is your vote

Kera Peterson is president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. This “Labor Voices” column appeared in the November 2020 issue of The Saint Paul Union Advocate.

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The St. Paul Regional Labor Federation brings together more than 100 local unions representing over 50,000 union members who live and work in Ramsey, Washington, Dakota and Chisago Counties, and I am proud to serve as the federation’s president. I took office in January, eager to carry forward the organization’s work in support of our shared priorities as a labor movement. We all knew that 2020, as a presidential election year, would bring unique challenges and opportunities. But the stakes have grown even higher with the COVID-19 pandemic – and the Trump administration’s failed response to it.

In March our federation held its last monthly meeting before the COVID-19 outbreak reached Minnesota. Delegates from our broad coalition of local unions gathered at the St. Paul Labor Center. We talked about the pressure that working people were under and about the bold organizing work going on locally – on the ground, in our communities – in the face of historic inequality in our country.

At that time, I spoke about the Trump administration’s continued attacks on workers and their rights to form unions and negotiate fair contracts with their employers. I talked about the administration’s efforts to divide working people, targeting refugees and immigrants with hateful rhetoric and signing executive orders that threatened to upend their lives. And I talked about the administration’s ongoing push to erode the rights of our LGBTQ family members, and those of our friends and neighbors who worship in mosques and synagogues.

I remember how uncertain everything felt during that meeting. Just days later Gov. Walz made the difficult decision to issue stay at-home orders to help protect public health and preserve the lives of Minnesotans. Since then, our sleeves have been rolled up in efforts to combat three crises at once: an on-going public health pandemic, an economic recession, and long-standing structural racism. Both locally and nationally, our labor movement is responding to each crisis with urgency and solidarity, and this work is at the forefront of many of our minds as we talk with union voters about the upcoming election.

Working people need safe jobs, economic security and freedom from systemic racism. We need elected leaders who prioritize working people’s health and safety over corporate profits and stock prices. And we need elected leaders who are serious about changing policy so that our nation’s persistent racial inequality can begin to be addressed in meaningful ways. Stopping racial inequality, ensuring the health and economic security of working people, putting our country on a path to prosperity for all – these are our goals as a labor movement. They are goals we share with Joe Biden, our labor-endorsed candidate for President, and with the other labor-endorsed candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot.

This moment demands both urgency and clarity. And for union members, who have been casting their ballots since early voting began in our state, the choice could not be clearer. Addressing the challenges we face as a nation – beginning with COVID-19 response and recovery – is not a priority for this president or his Republican allies like Mitch McConnell. If it were their priority, they would be moving the HEROES Act, which House Democrats passed in May, instead of packing the Supreme Court with another anti-worker judge. Make no mistake, COVID-19 relief is an election issue. The only way to save lives and livelihoods is to beat President Trump and elect labor-endorsed majorities in Congress and our state Legislature.

I am confident we will do just that Nov. 3. Our movement is about people power, and I have felt the energy our union volunteers are bringing to the Labor 2020 campaign. We are talking to union members on the phones, by text message and in the workplace about the importance of being a voter, and about the opportunity to build a better state and nation. We’re essential workers. We’re essential voters. And we’re making a difference.

Kera Peterson is a member of Machinists Local Lodge 459. View a list of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation’s endorsed candidates at www.stpaulunions.org.

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