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Commentary
Proud to advocate for all of Minnesota’s workers

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, July 24, 2015

By Bill McCarthy, President, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation

In my 30 years in Minnesota’s labor movement, I’ve been proud to advocate for justice and dignity for all of Minnesota’s workers.

This fall, I will continue that advocacy in a new role — as president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

The state federation’s general board met July 14 and voted to choose me to take the place of current president Shar Knutson, who will retire October 9 (see news story).

I want to thank the members of the Minnesota AFL-CIO general board for voting their confidence in me in taking on this work.

‘I’m proud that I came to the MRLF from UNITE HERE Local 17, one of our most diverse unions, representing hard-working hotel housekeepers and restaurant workers. For these workers — for all workers — I will continue to advocate for dignity and justice as your next Minnesota AFL-CIO president.

I want to pay tribute to Shar Knutson and her leadership of the Minnesota AFL-CIO these past six years, years which brought challenging times for the state’s labor movement.

President Knutson led the Minnesota AFL-CIO in winning a key defensive battle — stopping “Right to Work” in the Minnesota legislature. She also led the Minnesota AFL-CIO in working with coalition partners to win a long-overdue raise in Minnesota’s minimum wage.

Both of these campaigns showed how a united labor movement, working with our allies, continues to be a powerful advocate for Minnesota’s working families.

Also under Knutson’s leadership, the Minnesota AFL-CIO and our area labor councils undertook a vital strategic planning process to make our state federation and regional federations more effective.

I want to continue implementing those plans — with an emphasis on organizing —so that the Minnesota AFL-CIO and our area labor councils, together with our affiliated unions, will be powerful advocates for our members and all Minnesota workers.

I’ve led the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation as president since 2002 and saying goodbye here will be hard.

During the past 13 years, with the support of our affiliated unions, this organization truly has transformed itself and become a national model for an effective regional labor federation.

When I became president (of the then Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council), we had a staff of two: the president and an office manager. During an election year, a temporary organizer would be hired to help coordinate our political work in Anoka County, and then would be let go after the election. We had no permanent organizing staff and no permanent political program or campaign program.

Beginning in 2002, we added a full-time political director and grew our staff to the point where we now we have three full-time organizing staff led by a full-time campaigns manager.

This staff capacity has enabled the MRLF to engage with our affiliates, members and community partners throughout the region to organize winning electoral efforts, winning policy initiatives and winning issue campaigns.

Building a united labor movement at the local level has been the key to this success. Since 2002, the number of workers affiliated with the MRLF has increased from 59,000 to 75,000.

Looking forward, all unions need to come together under the umbrella of the state federation and area labor councils. Every union, small as well as large, is important. Together  we make a great labor movement. It’s all of those voices, all of us together, that gives us strength.

We need to be a voice for all workers, not just our own members. And we as a movement need to reflect the faces of the growing diversity of our state’s workforce in our ranks as well as in our leadership.

I’m proud that I came to the MRLF from UNITE HERE Local 17, one of our most diverse unions, representing hard-working hotel housekeepers and restaurant workers. For these workers — for all workers — I will continue to advocate for dignity and justice as your next Minnesota AFL-CIO president.



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