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Suburban Labor Councils
MRLF to organize labor council for southwest Hennepin County suburbs

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, June 18, 2010

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

BLOOMINGTON — Representatives from a broad range of unions discussed the challenges facing workers in the suburbs at a half-day conference in Bloomington May 25.

Bill McCarthy, president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, grew up in Bloomington and attended Jefferson High School. He said discussion at the conference would shape the direction for the new Southwest Hennepin County Labor Council, which would become the fourth suburban labor council organized by the MRLF. “These councils have been extremely effective in raising Labor’s presence,” he said.

The new council will represent union members who live or work in the communities of Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, and Richfield.

The conference at the Ramada Mall of America Hotel highlighted the 110,000 workers in Bloomington, where hotels and retail are the largest employers in the city of 85,000 residents.

Discussion also included issues at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, where about 8,000 workers are union members.

The conference featured a panel of four union representatives who discussed the issues and challenges facing their unions and union members working in Bloomington.

The economic slowdown has impacted construction in Bloomington, said panelist Steve Buck, a business agent for Laborer Local 563. “The construction trades are experiencing unseen levels of unemployment,” he reported, as high as 60-70 percent in some trades. “Through groups like this… we hope to strengthen our market share in this area and improve the lives of our members.”

Bloomington includes a number of very large nursing homes, noted panelist Jigme Ugen, secretary-treasurer of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, which represents nursing home workers. “We’ve attempted to organize in Bloomington and Richfield; it’s been very difficult,” he said. “It’s a revolving door here in Bloomington as far as service jobs.”

Panelist Todd Dahlstrom, an organizer from SEIU Local 26, said stronger political relationships in Bloomington could have helped Local 26 in efforts to organize security guards at suburban office parks there.

Public policy goes hand in hand with organizing, observed panelist Wade Luneberg, secretary-treasurer for UNITE HERE Local 17. For the first time, he noted, an expansion at the Mall of America includes a labor peace provision that will make it easier to organize workers at new hotels coming there. “It’s precedent-setting,” he said.

Mary Bellman from the University of Minnesota Labor Education Service helped facilitate one of two break-out sessions at the conference. One session worked to develop a policy “wish list” unions might want to see in Bloomington. The other break-out session’s discussion focused on Bloomington politics.

“The right has held the microphone too long,” said Bob Goodermont, president of Steelworkers Local 2175, which represents 90 workers at a Thermo King plant in Bloomington. “It’s our responsibility to get the facts out. We have to fight back and make it good for average Americans.”

“Right now, in many cases, we’re reacting to things that are happening at city hall,” said MRLF president Bill McCarthy. “We should be involved at the front end.”

McCarthy said the newest suburban labor council’s work would include a policy research component to track local issues and develop worker-friendly policy initiatives.

“As union people, we raise the standards for all workers, not just union ones,” McCarthy said.

“This is a great chance to organize,” said Ken Kelash, a Carpenters business agent who also is the Minnesota state senator who represents Bloomington.

In addition to Kelash, other labor-friendly elected officials who attended the conference included: State Representative Ann Lenczewski, State Representative Paul Rosenthal, Hennepin County Commissioner Randy Johnson, and Bloomington City Council Member Steve Elkins.

“Working together and holding our politicians accountable, it starts today here in Bloomington,” said SEIU Local 26 organizer Todd Dahlstrom.

The next step: The MRLF will ask affiliates to appoint union members to serve on the new southwest Hennepin suburban labor council. If you live or work in the area, and you would like to be considered for an appointment, contact your local union or MRLF organizer Gayle McMahon at 612-379-4206 ext. 105.

Above: The conference featured a panel discussing the issues and challenges facing unions and union members working and living in Bloomington. Left to right: Steve Buck, Laborers Local 563; Todd Dahlstrom, SEIU Local 26; Jigme Ugen, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota; Wade Luneberg, UNITE HERE Local 17; Bill McCarthy, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.

Click here for more photos from this event, from the photo gallery at the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation page on Facebook.


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