Minnesota unionists appeal for unity

MINNEAPOLIS (PAI) — Concerned that rancorous debate among national unions could irreparably harm the future of the labor movement, Minnesota unionists are issuing a call for unity.

The unusual effort was started by Jim Meyer, state political coordinator for the Communications Workers and a member of CWA Local 7250. In mid-June, he started gathering signatures on a letter citing concern “that our solidarity is in jeopardy.” He plans to send the letter to national union leaders the week before they go to Chicago for the national AFL-CIO convention, which will run from July 25-28.

“The goal is to make our message heard from Minnesota to those big boys out in Washington,” Meyer said. “Let ’em know how the people of Minnesota feel about what the heck they’re doing out there.”

Since the November 2004 U.S. election, national union leaders have been engaged in public, often-heated debate about the future of the labor movement.

Led by Service Employees President Andy Stern, a group of unions is questioning the AFL-CIO’s commitment to organizing and whether it is the right organization to build organized labor.

Many people in Minnesota do not feel they have been consulted during this debate and everyone Meyer has contacted agrees with the text of the letter, he said. “Most people think it (the letter) is a good thing,” he noted. “It doesn’t point a finger at either side.”

Unions carried Minnesota for labor-backed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry last year and elected many labor-endorsed officials at state and local levels, Meyer said. That success could be jeopardized if the movement fails to stay united.

“The other side doesn’t have to worry about splitting us — we’re doing it all on our own,” he said. “We’re going to lose the 2006 elections before 2006 even gets here.”

The one-paragraph letter, addressed to national AFL-CIO Executive Council members, reads: “Unions in Minnesota have a long history of working very well together. Labor 2004 and the presidential election results show just how well unions in Minnesota work together, but we are concerned that our solidarity is in jeopardy. We are asking that ALL unions consider how labor will be hurt if we allow our differences to divide us. At a time when labor has been under relentless attack by President Bush, we need to be united, not divided. We are hoping that all issues can be resolved within the AFL-CIO so we can carry on the fight in a united front. Our future is at stake!” The letter is signed “Concerned Minnesota Union Leaders.”

So far, local officers of the Communications Workers, the Letter Carriers, the Postal Workers, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the St. Paul Teachers Federation, the Minnesota Nurses Association and the Transportation Communications Union have signed Meyer’s letter.

Meyer said he is in contact with many other unions, starting with the SEIU, Teamsters and other unions that challenge the AFL-CIO. He plans to mail, fax and e-mail the signed letter to the Executive Council by July 13, but he wants more backers and said they can call him at 651-263-5875 or e-mail him at jimbo@cwalocal7250.org.

This article originally appeared in Workday Minnesota.