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Labor 2012

Vote ‘no’ on marriage amendment, unions urge

November 5 , 2012

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Vote “no” on the marriage amendment on the November 6 ballot and you’re helping to defend the rights of all workers, Minnesota union activists say.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO and other labor organizations are part of Minnesotans United for All Families, a broad coalition opposing the marriage amendment.

“People ask, ‘why is labor coming out against this? — It’s a social issue,’” acknowledges Mark Bradley, Roseville, a member of two unions, SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity. He offers a ready answer: “It affects our members directly. It affects their benefits. It affects our members’ personal lives.”

“The labor movement has long stood in support of civil rights for all people and this case is no different,” says Bill Heaney, St. Anthony Village, legislative and political director for the IBEW Minnesota State Council, which opposes the marriage amendment. He adds, “everything I was taught growing up from my folks reinforces how wrong it is.”

Cherrene Horazuk, AFCSME Local 3800:
‘We can’t allow people to divide us’

“The very basic identity of the labor movement is to unite all people regardless of issues on the basis of being workers,” notes Cherrene Horazuk, president of AFSCME Local 3800, whose members are clerical workers at the University of Minnesota. “We can’t allow people to divide us and pit us against each other.”

“This amendment… [is] about taking away rights. It’s about creating second class citizens. That goes against everything the labor movement stands for,” Horazuk says.

“Union speakers start with the phrase, ‘sisters and brothers,’” Horazuk observes. “We are each other’s sisters and brothers.”

She continues: “There are very few people who are in unions who couldn’t point to a family member, an actual sister or brother, a father or mother, a co-worker, who are GLBT.”

Horazuk, Minneapolis, shares that when she met her partner Amy 4-1/2 years ago, “we met on strike.”

 “There are many GLBT people who are very active in the labor movement,” adds Horazuk. “We are there every day in workplace battles. We are there every day on the picket lines.”

Horazuk cites a longtime slogan of the labor movement: “Any injury to one is an injury to all.” She says, “this is an injury to one — and an injury to all — we have to fight back against it.”

Mitch Azarcon, SEIU Healthcare:
‘Marriage is about love and commitment’

Mitch Azarcon, Rochester, is an SEIU Healthcare Minnesota member who has been fully engaged in the campaign to defeat the marriage amendment.  With support from her union, she’s taking time away from her job as a surgical core tech at Rochester Methodist Hospital to work full-time on the campaign.

 “SEIU has endorsed fighting for marriage equality,” Azarcon says. “Right now what I’m doing is engaging our SEIU members to help defeat the amendment.”

Azarcon has been recruiting SEIU members to come to phonebanks and doorknocks, working closely with Minnesotans United for All Families, which has provided training and phone scripts. The Minnesotans United campaign has focused on engaging voters in personal conversations about the marriage amendment.

“I’m very happy to report most of the conversations I have are with members who are pledging to vote no,” Azarcon says. “They’re happy to fight for equality for all people.”

“I do have some difficult conversations as well,” Azarcon reports, but some of those conversations turn “yes” votes into “no” votes.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota member Mitch Azarcon spoke at the ‘Union Members Vote No’ rally September 30 at Rice Park in St. Paul. ‘As union members, we believe in equality and fairness and equal rights for all people,’ Azarcon says. ‘We believe in protecting workers and their families.’

Part of Azarcon’s campaign work also has included training SEIU members how to talk about the marriage amendment. “We’re encouraging them to have conversations with their fellow union members at work or at home with friends and family,” she says.

“The marriage amendment strikes close to home because I am also a lesbian,” Azarcon says. “I believe marriage is about love and commitment. Someday, I also want to marry… the vow ‘to have and to hold…’ should be for all couples and that includes gay couples as well.”

A vote to defeat the marriage amendment won’t change state law, however, which currently includes 515 statutes providing benefits and protections to opposite-sex couples. “Same-sex couples are not given the same rights,” Azarcon notes.

“As union members, we believe in equality and fairness and equal rights for all people,” Azarcon says. “We believe in protecting workers and their families.”

Lisa O’Neill, Letter Carriers:
‘Unions should protect every member’

“Unions should protect every member,” maintains Lisa O’Neill, president of the Minnesota State Association of Letter Carriers. That belief prompted her to put a discussion of the marriage amendment on the agenda at the letter carriers’ state convention earlier this fall. “I opened the convention saying we’re going to talk about some uncomfortable subjects for some people, but I asked everybody to remain respectful,” she says.

“The vast majority of people sat and had good conversations about the amendment and how it would affect our members,” she relates. “People spoke about somebody they knew. They put a human face on it. It’s not just about ideology.”

One retired member talked about his gay son, she says.  Another member talked about restrictions gay partners face trying to care for one another in emergencies or at the end of life. One letter carrier from Rochester, she says, told about serving in Afghanistan in a military unit which included gay soldiers. They were willing to die for him, he related, so he needed to take a stand to defend their rights.

“I really do think, some people, their eyes opened up,” O’Neill says. “I believe we did change some minds.”

In the end, O’Neill says, the 80-delegate Minnesota State Association of Letter Carriers convention passed a resolution opposing the marriage amendment with only one nay vote.

Jennifer Munt, AFSCME Council 5:
‘It’s an issue of our union brothers and sisters’

AFSCME Council 5 also took up a resolution opposing the marriage amendment at its 900-delegate convention back in October 2011. The discussion was “emotional, powerful,” recalls Jennifer Munt, Minnetonka, Council 5’s public affairs director.

“People came out on the convention floor in front of their brothers and sisters,” Munt says. They also talked about gay family members and friends. “It was no longer an issue about groups of people who were different from us; It became an issue of our union brothers and sisters who came to the microphone.” The discussion lasted three hours — and the resolution passed overwhelmingly.

The resolution passed at the convention backed up earlier action in May 2011 by AFSCME Council 5’s executive board to oppose the marriage amendment and join the Minnesotans United for All Families campaign. “We were the very first union to join and campaign to defeat the marriage amendment,” notes Munt, who serves on the board of Minnesotans United.

 “We had been one of the first unions to march in the Pride parade as well,” Munt says. “It’s a powerful thing when you walk town the street and AFSCME members in the crowd take out their union card and shout, ‘that’s my union, thank you for supporting me!’”

AFSCME Council 5 has campaigned actively to defeat the marriage amendment, including sending a special postcard to its 43,000 members across the state. “Vote no. Don’t limit the freedom to marry,” the message read. “Love is love — it belongs to everybody. Marriage is about love and commitment. Gay couples want to stand in front of family and friends and make a solemn promise to care for each other through thick and thin… Marriage is a basic freedom that shouldn’t be denied to anyone. In America, freedom means freedom for everybody. It’s simply wrong to single out a group of Minnesotans for a trait that is part of their humanity… Here in Minnesota, we believe in the Golden Rule. We treat others as we want to be treated. If two loving, committed adults want to get married, it’s not for society to judge how they find happiness…This freedom-limiting amendment is too much government intrusion into the private lives of Minnesotans.”

AFSCME Council 5 members also have campaigned against the marriage amendment in workplaces, Munt reports, using fortune cookie messages to highlight the 515 rights denied by Minnesota statute to gay and lesbian couples.

“One of the hardest places to talk about GLBT rights is the Iron Range,” Munt says. “The thing that got people to say ‘no’ was that gay and lesbian couples can’t get a family fishing license.”

With the election tomorrow, the latest polls show that the vote on the marriage amendment remains a close contest between likely “yes” voters and likely “no” voters.

“We in Minnesota are likely to be the first state to defeat a marriage amendment,” Munt notes. Similar measures have passed in 30 states, however — where a last-minute barrage of television ads supporting amendments that restrict same-sex marriages helped sway outcomes.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO and other unions opposing Minnesota’s marriage amendment view it as part of a broader struggle to advance social justice, defend civil rights and protect workers rights.

AFSCME’s Jennifer Munt observes: “Who is supporting the marriage amendment? It is the same people who want to take away our rights to bargain collectively and take away our right to vote without barriers.”

For more information and to help get out the vote to defeat the marriage amendment:

Labor organizations listed as coalition partners
with Minnesotans United for All Families:

AFSCME Council 5
AFSCME Local 3800
Education Minnesota
Carlton County Central Labor Body
Communications Workers of America–MN State Council
Duluth Central Labor Body
IATSE Local 13
The Inter Faculty Organization of Minnesota State Universities
International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 101, Duluth 
Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, ESP Chapter
Minnesota AFL]CIO
Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE)
Minnesota Federation of Teachers & ESPs
Minnesota Nurses Association
National Gay Pilot’s Association (NGPA)
North East Area Labor Council
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota
SEIU Local 26
SEIU MN State Council
St. Paul Federation of Teachers
TEMPO (the Education Minnesota Professional Organization)
Twin Cities Labor Chorus
Twin Cities Musicians Union, AFM Local 30]73
Working Partnership
(community services arm of Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation)

AFSCME Council 5 members at the ‘Union Members Vote No’ rally September 30 at Rice Park in St. Paul.


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