Commentary

Unions for all

"Our democracy is under attack, corporations and CEOs are taking more and more for themselves, and working people are fed up," the workers write. Pictured here: More than 400 SEIU mental health workers at three Twin Cities hospitals went on a 24-hour strike on May 24, 2022, seeking higher pay, more staffing and safer workplaces in their first labor contracts. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

This Labor Day, unions are riding a wave of popularity. Maybe it’s because of corporate greed that is at levels not seen since the Gilded Age. Maybe it’s because the realities made clear during COVID-19 about who is essential. Maybe it’s just all of us being fed up with seeing a small handful flying into space while working families can’t afford housing or health care.

Whatever the reason, the call for Unions for All seems to be resonating across Minnesota and the country, and we couldn’t be more excited.

We are three Minnesotans connected by our work with Service Employees International Union, which brings together nearly 60,000 working people across our state. We bring different experiences, and are at different points in our union journey, but we all are committed to making sure every workplace has the democracy that comes with having a union.

Here are our stories:

Steve

I’m a retired member of SEIU Local 284, the union of over 10,000 education workers from across the state, from pre-K to higher ed.

I know that having a union means dignity in retirement. Retirees in this country face continuing challenges, including financial and medical security. SEIU has worked tirelessly to endorse and promote political candidates who work to enhance that security. In Minnesota, SEIU engages with Public Employee Retirement Association to ensure investments that are not only fiscally sound, but also labor friendly.

As a union worker, my retirement and health insurance were always a significant part of employment contracts. Bargaining collectively, we had the strength to negotiate living wages and affordable insurance. We also had the comforting knowledge that as long as we abided by the contract language and satisfied the job requirements, our jobs would be safe.

Like most retirees, I am dependent upon my Social Security benefits. Thanks to union lobbying efforts and information campaigns, we are now enjoying increased benefits, with expectations that Social Security will extend well into the future.

Sadie

I was part of a recent historic union election across Minnesota and four other states in which hundreds of Planned Parenthood North Central States workers overwhelmingly voted in favor of forming our union with SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa, a union of over 40,000 healthcare workers.

Working for a company as well-known as Planned Parenthood in a time like this can be harrowing. Every day opens another door for attacks on my patients’ and my own rights. At a time like this our workers need to be on unified and stable ground. Our union is going to ensure our employer will take care of us, so we can focus on giving our patients the compassionate care and undivided attention they deserve.

I am so thankful for the work of my colleagues across the affiliate to win our election, and I’m looking forward to bargaining our first contract and continuing this fight.

Lena

I’m part of a group of Twin Cities workers fighting right now to be able to form our union. We are coming together to join SEIU Local 26, a union of over 8,000 property service workers who work in the buildings housing some of the wealthiest Minnesotans and corporations.

I work in condo services, and my entire industry is in for an overhaul. We are simultaneously considered “unskilled” and “essential” — showing just how imbalanced our societal priorities have been. Instead of making better jobs, we’re told to engage in hustle culture — a short-term, personal solution that leads to burnout. I’d rather fight for long-term, collective solutions that benefit my entire community, especially those workers deemed so essential.

Unions were how we got what are now considered basic workers’ rights: minimum wage, weekends, and overtime. The decline of unions has meant that a full-time job just isn’t enough to raise a family like it was for my parents. We’re here to demand those same benefits that workers of the past fought hard for.

Unions for all

We all know that Unions For All is an eye-catching slogan, but we genuinely believe it to be a mission as well. Our democracy is under attack, corporations and CEOs are taking more and more for themselves, and working people are fed up. Whether at the places we work or Starbucks, Amazon or Trader Joes, workers are tired of falling behind during a time of record profits and disrespect for those who worked during a pandemic.

Labor Day can be a great time to relax with family (and we hope you do!) but we also hope it serves as a reminder of the work we have in front of us. We know those in power are going to use every tool at their disposal to stop workers from joining unions. We know they will try to divide us by what we look like, or where we live, or what we do for a living. It’s all to distract us from their greedy actions. But we believe people are tired of those divisive tactics. We see that divide and conquer only benefits the small handful at the top.

We’re hopeful that as we push for Unions for All, we build a movement, not just a moment. The nice thing is that the choice is in our hands. We hope if you’re reading this, and you work somewhere without a union, you talk to your co-workers and find a way to form a union.

This Labor Day, as we reflect on where we are as a state and country, we have so much work to do. We know we can’t win the big fights we need to win as individuals. We need the power of unions and the strength of solidarity. The labor movement has been the leader when we’ve won big things in the past, and we’re building back the power to do that again.

Join us!

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Steve Miltich
Steve Miltich

Steve Miltich was a custodian at Orono District 278 for 23 years and is now retired member of SEIU Local 284.

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Sadie Brewer
Sadie Brewer

Sadie Brewer is a registered nurse at Planned Parenthood and a member of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa.

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Lena Roth
Lena Roth

Lena Roth is desk attendant employed by FirstService who is organizing to join SEIU Local 26.

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