Kera Peterson: Organizing surge shows what’s possible at the polls

Kera Peterson, shown speaking at a union rally in the Chisago Lakes School District, is president of the Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation.

We’ve all seen the headlines: From Amazon warehouses to hospitals and clinics, from bookstores to coffee shops, we are in the midst of a historic upswing of labor organizing. Working people in Minnesota and across the country are coming together to fight for better wages, safer workspaces, and dignity and respect on the job. And they are looking to our unions for solidarity and support in that fight.

Unions are more popular this Labor Day than they have been in the past 50 years. We have seen a surge in U.S. workers looking to exercise their freedom to stand together in unions, driving up the number of petitions filed at the National Labor Relations Board by 69% compared to last year.

And more often than not, those NLRB elections are going workers’ way here in Minnesota. Our state’s union density – the share of union members in the total workforce – has increased in each of the last two years, bucking a national trend. More than 16% of Minnesota workers are union members. We are 416,000 members strong and growing!

This momentum is exciting and inspiring. It is also the product of decades of worker frustration, driven by low wages, unsafe workplaces, unaffordable health care, and a lack of respect and dignity on the job. When we join together in union as workers, we have the opportunity to make better lives for ourselves and our families. Our unions help ensure safer workplaces, and our union contracts help build a stronger and more fair economy by raising standards for all workers, whether they are union members or not.

But working people are also looking to the labor movement to restore balance to our economy, which for too long has been stacked in favor of corporations and the wealthy.

Corporate special interests have lobbied successfully for massive tax breaks and deregulation, while financing legal attacks on workers’ rights and protections. Companies like Amazon pit states and municipalities against each other for public subsidies and incentives, while avoiding billions in federal taxes. Meanwhile, working families paying their fair share in taxes have seen the cost of health care, child care and energy cut deeper into their paychecks. Sometimes it feels like the deck has been stacked against us, and in many ways it has.

As a labor movement, it’s imperative that we take the same momentum driving this surge in workplace organizing and use it to mobilize union members to get to the polls and vote in our General Election on or before Nov. 8. The progress that we’ve fought for and our future and freedom as workers are on the ballot this fall. Only the power of organized labor can combat the power of organized money, corporate special interests and the billionaire CEOs who aggressively attack our fundamental freedom to have a voice on the job.

We’re excited to take on that work here at the Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation. Between now and Election Day, union volunteers will be reaching out to fellow union members on the phone and at the doorstep to connect about what’s at stake in this election and which candidates share our values. Our federation will coordinate dozens of phone banks and door knocks – opportunities for union members and retirees to make a real difference this election cycle.

We’ll never outspend the corporations and billionaires, but we can always outwork them. Organizing gives us a chance to have our voices heard and to call out the powerful, both at work and at the ballot box. Together, we can help elect pro-worker candidates who support our freedoms to join a union, to earn a good living, to access affordable health care and to vote for our representatives in free and fair elections. I hope you’ll join me in this work.

– Kera Peterson is president of the Saint Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. The SPRLF unites over 50,000 union members who live and work in Chisago, Dakota, Ramsey and Washington counties. Learn more about the federation, its endorsed candidates and how to volunteer with the Labor 2022 campaign at stpaulunions.org.

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  1. […] we’ve been reflecting on our collective power as workers. Unions are more popular than ever, workers are winning, and there is a lot to […]

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