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Bernie Burnham

MN AFL-CIO elects Bernie Burnham as new president

Adapted from the Minneapolis Labor Review, December 18, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS —Meeting December 14, the general board of the Minnesota AFL-CIO voted unanimously to elect teachers’ union leader Bernadette “Bernie” Burnham as the state labor federation’s new president. She will take office February 1, 2022.

Burnham will serve out the remainder of the term of Bill McCarthy, Minnesota AFL-CIO president since 2015, who is retiring (see story).

The Minnesota AFL-CIO’s state convention, planned for September 2022, will include an election to choose a president for a full four-year term.

Since 2019, Burnham has served as the vice president of Education Minnesota, the 89,000- member statewide teachers union. She worked 14 years as an elementary school teacher for the Duluth Public Schools, became a union steward, and served five years as the president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers.

For the past year, Burnham has co-chaired the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Committee on Racial and Economic Justice.

A Pacific-Islander, she makes history as the first person of color to lead the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

“Becoming president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO is the next step in a journey that began 22 years ago for me, when I was hired as a teacher in the Duluth Public Schools,” Burnham said. “I was a woman of color who took an unconventional route into the teaching profession. I didn’t know if I would be accepted, but my new union family embraced me.”

“It’s an honor and privilege to be elected to this office,” Burnham said. “I am committed to continuing the labor movement’s fight for a state where everyone earns a fair return on their work, where every child can pursue their dreams, and where every family that’s struggling today will get what they need, things like accessible healthcare, modern roads and bridges, safe housing, and world-class schools.”

The mother of two daughters, now grown, Burnham was a classroom assistant and playground monitor when she received encouragement to get a teaching degree.

In 1998, she completed her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at the University of Minnesota, Duluth and earned a master’s degree in education in 2005 from St. Mary’s University, Winona.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO general board also voted December 14 to name Bill McCarthy president-emeritus for his career of service to Minnesota’s labor movement. During his time in office, McCarthy led the federation in expanding and refining its political and organizing support work, launching the state’s first and only union workforce development intermediary agency, improving Workers Compensation benefits, and passing the nation’s strongest wage theft protection law.

“President-elect Burnham has my full confidence and support as she leads our movement through the challenges and opportunities ahead,” McCarthy said.

Related story:
> MN AFL-CIO president Bill McCarthy retires after 37 years in labor movement
(Minneapolis Labor Review, 12-18-21)

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