Labor Review Centennial, 1907-2007
The Labor Review's ninth decade: an era of union busting, plant closings and wins for labor champion Paul Wellstone
From the Minneapolis Labor Review, November 15, 2007
Part 9 of a 10-Part Series
By Steve Share, Labor Review editor
First, a disclaimer: I write this installment of Labor Review history from 1987-1996 at great risk — many of the key participants from those years continue today as active members and leaders of the local and state labor movement. I expect to hear from you about something important I’ve missed or something I didn’t quite get right!
During my four years as editor, I’ve heard some of your stories of past organizing and political campaigns: those events of 10-20 years ago may be too recent to qualify as history, but they’re important to learn more about in understanding where we are today.
Finally, limited by space, my efforts are at best impressionistic.
A tale of three presidents
From 1987 to 1996, Wally Nelson continued to serve as Labor Review editor while the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council saw three presidents: Bob Lindahl, Don Early, and Dick Johnson. Nelson, editor since 1978, provided continuity to the newspaper.
The Labor Review noted the changes in CLUC leadership without reporting the politics driving the leadership turnover.
Paging through these ten years finds that the three CLUC presidents each left a very different presence in the newspaper.
During Lindahl’s presidency, the Labor Review went all-out to promote the AFL-CIO’s labor-endorsed candidates. September 25, 1987, for example, the entire front page was devoted to a letter from Bob Lindahl about the Minneapolis school board election. November 4, 1988, the entire front page was filled with a full color photo of the U.S. Capitol (running color photos was rare in the newspaper then). The accompany text read: “Will labor’s voice be heard in this building? Your vote for the labor endorsed candidates will make the decision.”
Lindahl regularly wrote a prominent message in the Labor Review. February 19, 1988 his message was headlined, “Beware the Dangerous Waters of City Hall.”
Lindahl wrote: “Once again, the harbor waters of City Hall abound with marauding pirate ships, the jolly roger — flying high — and their captains seeking out such booty as tax increment financing, public grants, and other such financial aids.”
He continued: “We can hope the fortress of City Hall and those who ‘man’ her defenses are more alert and astute to the ‘ways’ of these privateers, and do not fall to the guiles of these glib captains and their crews.”
Minneapolis Building Trades business manager Don Early defeated Lindahl in January 1990 and became CLUC president. While Early’s photo commonly appeared in the Labor Review, and news stories quoted Early, a look at the Labor Review during his tenure as president won’t find Early’s byline.
In January 1996, Early chose not to run for re-election. The CLUC elected a new president, Dick Johnson, who was president of Communications Workers of America Local 7200. June 7, 1996 Johnson began writing a regular column in the newspaper, “Speaking Out.” He did not, however, follow Lindahl’s example in commanding the front page for his broadsides.
Economy sheds manufacturing jobs
During this era, the Labor Review reported how redevelopment and corporate flight to non-union states were costing Minnesota workers their jobs.
August 14, 1987, the newspaper reported that 200 jobs would be lost when the new Minneapolis Convention Center displaced the Wonder Bread plant.
December 20, 1991 the newspaper reported the CLUC opposed the selection of a site for a new county jail — the Augsburg-Fortress publishing company — where 400 jobs would be lost.
January 24, 1992 the paper reported that the Quebecor Printing plant in Fridley would be closed for good, laying off 244 union employees.
June 5, 1992 the paper reported that Flour City Ornamental closed, displacing 200 Iron Workers.
November 19, 1993 the paper reported Fisher Nut would close, laying off 288 workers.
The September 15, 1989 issue reported that the city’s last union upholstery shop was closing. (A successful strike by the Upholsters Union in the early 1930s helped set the stage for the history-changing 1934 Teamsters strike).
January 11, 1991 the Labor Review reported that Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth together had lost 122 manufacturing plants since 1989.
The Labor Review chronicled the state labor movement’s efforts to pass plant closing legislation and preserve unemployment benefits and workers compensation benefits.
At the same time that workers feared plant closings, corporations large and not-so-large aggressively sought to bust local unions.
In northern Minnesota, Boise Cascade received state funds to expand its plant in International Falls and then hired a non-union contractor — BE&K — to build it. Thousands of Minnesota union workers marched in protest, the Labor Review reported, running a March 24, 1989 account by Union Advocate editor Barb Kucera. The fight continued in the streets and in the legislature and in the courts for several years.
The Labor Review reported December 8, 1995 how one case, involving IBEW Local 292, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court upheld the right of a union to “salt” union workers to organize inside a non-union company, a major victory for unions nationwide.
Not only building trades workers were challenged to stand their ground against union-busters. In the Labor Review during these years, the newspaper reported long-running battles by Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 17 to preserve longtime union shops.
April 18, 1975 the Labor Review had reported that “newly merged Local 17 of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers is the largest local in the state, with 10,200 members. The local… consists of the membership of five former locals in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
A decade later, Local 17 was fighting defensive actions in workplace after workplace.
The Radisson hotel chain had received city financing to build a new flagship hotel in downtown Minneapolis but later reneged on a commitment to rehire its union workers when the new hotel opened.
Supported by the labor community, Local 17 kept up the fight for eight years. Workers won a union recognition vote. The Radisson refused to bargain. The National Labor Relations Board eventually charged the hotel chain with contempt. Finally, a banner Labor Review headline November 17, 1995 read: “Local 17 reaches historic agreement with the Radisson Plaza Hotel. ‘Union again’ at Radisson Plaza.”
The Labor Review also reported Local 17’s successful campaigns to preserve union jobs and union contracts at the Nankin Cafe and the Normandy Inn.
One HERE Local 17 leader who came out of the campaigns at the Radisson and Normandy was Bill McCarthy, Local 17 business representative and later president (McCarthy was elected Minneapolis CLUC president in 2002).
Leonard Peterson, longtime ad manager, dies of heart attack
During the Labor Review’s ninth decade, the newspaper published two times per month, 24 times per year. A typical issue ran eight pages. The paper would run 16 or 20 pages for the year’s three special issues: the anniversary issue in May or June, the Labor Day issue in August, and the holiday issue in December.
April 26, 1991 the Labor Review published a 32-page issue when the AFL-CIO Union Industries Show came to the Minneapolis Convention Center. That edition included 121 ads.
Sadly, that 32-page edition became the last issue for ad manager Leonard Peterson, who died of a heart attack April 21 just after sending the newspaper to press. Peterson had served as Labor Review ad manager since 1970.
December 10, 1993 the Labor Review reported that circulation had passed 50,000. “The growing Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council has topped the 50,000 member mark,” the newspaper noted. Annual Postal Service statements published in the newspaper in following years, however, reported average circulation had dipped to just under 50,000. [The Labor Review circulation the past few months has averaged more than 68,000 copies monthly].
During this era, the Minnesota AFL-CIO regularly ran a full page headlined “News of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.” (Ron Cohen, former Labor Review editor, served as the state federation’s communications director until 1993). The state AFL-CIO primarily used this section to report state legislative news.
The Labor Review took notice of technological changes impacting how the labor movement communicated.
June 23, 1989 the newspaper reported the Minnesota AFL-CIO had installed a fax machine (and even ran a photo of it).
The Labor Review reported May 27, 1994 that “the Union Advocate newspaper has purchased a desktop publishing system and that [editor Barb Kucera] is in the process of learning how to use the system and software.”
Two years later, March 22, 1996, the newspaper featured a story about John See of the Labor Education Service leading classes for union members about “surfin’ the net.”
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