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2012 legislative session: a lesson in power of grassroots advocacy

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, May 25, 2012

By Bill McCarthy, President, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation

The stakes were high in the 2012 session of the Minnesota state legislature. Would extremists succeed in passing a “Right to Work” constitutional amendment? Would we get a bonding bill to fund state infrastructure and create jobs? Would we get legislation for a new Vikings stadium? Back in January, we didn’t know the answers to these questions.

With our future as a labor movement facing attack — and with the prospect of thousands of jobs at stake — Minnesota unions and union members mobilized to make an impact on the debate at the state capitol. And what  an impact we made.

We stopped the “Right to Work” amendment with the message that it was unfair, unsafe, and unnecessary.

We won a $569 million bonding bill — not as large as the $775 million Governor Dayton requested — but still a significant job-creating investment in our state.

And, in the last minutes of the fourth quarter of the legislative session, we won a new Vikings stadium that will be built in downtown Minneapolis, creating 7,500 construction jobs and preserving or creating thousands more hospitality industry jobs.

To get active in the
Labor 2012 campaign,
contact Adam Robinson at 612-321-5672 or adam@minneapolisunions.org.

None of these wins came easy. Union members worked together to educate co-workers, to generate phone calls, letters and e-mail to legislators, and to turn out union members in large numbers for community meetings with legislators, legislative committee hearings and state capitol rallies.

Here at the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, we organized 78 labor briefings on “Right to Work,” presented in community settings and in labor union halls, drawing total attendance of 2,712 people.

All our affiliated locals took part in educating and mobilizing their members, too.

We talk a lot about “solidarity” in the labor movement —but this year, against formidable odds — we really came together. And the results showed.  The 2012 legislative session brought a lesson about the power of grassroots advocacy.

Another lesson from the 2012 session: We need friends on both sides of the aisle. Some of our courageous Republican friends stood with us when it mattered most. Without their support, we would not have prevailed on “Right to Work,” the bonding bill, or the Vikings stadium. They deserve our thanks.

When it comes to jobs and issues important to labor, we need to seek bipartisan support on our issues. We need to seek out friends on both sides of the partisan divide.

We live in highly partisan times, of course. And we’ve seen how just a handful of general election votes can impact state legislative races and statewide races, like the 2008 U.S. Senate race and the 2010 governor’s race.

Without Mark Dayton in the governor’s office this year — given the current make-up of the legislature — Minnesota would have offered a repeat of Wisconsin in 2011, where anti-union legislation prevailed. Thank you, Governor Dayton, for your leadership — and your veto pen.

Our DFL friends in the legislature, despite their status as the minority party, hung together and put up the majority of votes for both the bonding bill and the Vikings stadium. Thank you.

To all the union members who became engaged in this year’s legislative session, thank you. You showed the power of grassroots advocacy.

Now we call on all union members to become involved in our Labor 2012 effort. Our goal: to win labor-friendly majorities in both houses of the state legislature. We don’t want to face a repeat threat from extremists pushing “Right to Work” again. We want a legislature that will partner with Governor Dayton to invest in jobs, invest in education, and make a better Minnesota.

To get active in the Labor 2012 campaign, contact Adam Robinson at 612-321-5672 or adam@minneapolisunions.org.

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