In this ever-changing, fast-paced world of ours where traditional political practices are being stood on their head in many ways, it is refreshing that we have some public figures that are still well-grounded and have not lost sight of the fact that they work for the people.
Congressman Keith Ellison of Minneapolis is one such public figure.
The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation recently hosted a labor breakfast with the congressman. Sixty people attended.
The meeting can be summed up in one word: INSPIRATIONAL. Since most of the people there were union political activists, he never said that 2018 is the most important election of our lives. He knew that we’ve heard that phrase during every election since Andrew Jackson (and other candidates) lost to John Quincy Adams in 1824. Ellison is too smart to bore us with that phrase.
Ellison had recently lost his bid to become chair of the Democratic National Committee by a close margin, but remained upbeat. He has a good working relationship with the winner, Tom Perez, and Ellison will be working actively around the nation in the newly created Deputy Chair position. Ellison said the best part of losing is that he still has time to be a congressman from Minnesota.
With just a few minutes devoted to talking to us, Ellison spent most of his 90 minutes listening to and responding to questions or comments from the labor men and women around the table. We were not shy.
Here are a few concerns that came up during the meeting that impact retirees:
· Student debt is a concern that sweeps across all age groups – including retirees. Hard to believe, but there are retirees having student debt payments deducted from their Social Security checks! And of course, as retirees we worry about our grandchildren or great-grandchildren. What kind of future will they have? What kind of career choices will they make? Will they ever be able to buy a home? Will they have the same standard of living that we have?
· Right-to-work laws are sweeping the nation. Once confined to southern states, such laws are now found in 26 states, including all of the states bordering Minnesota. We do not want programs and laws expounded by Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
· Scrap the Cap is a concern that we have emphasized at the labor booth at the Minnesota State Fair and elsewhere. In 2017, only the first $127,200 of earnings are taxed for social security purposes. Upper income persons can afford to pay a lot more as earnings climb by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Why should the top tier of persons go tax free after reaching the current cap?
· Pre-Emption is an awkward word and even a worse concept. Republicans want the same minimum wage for the entire state, thus nullifying other minimum wages in our core cities. Such a law would take away the local option to pay $15 an hour minimum or more than the $9.50 under existing state law. It is quite literally taking earnings out of a person’s billfold. Women, persons of color, younger workers and low-skilled workers, are especially impacted in a negative way. In addition to the higher wage, the pre-emption bill would also take away earned sick leave and safe time of workers.
Ellison did say that in order to win in 2018 we need to be active now in 2017. We cannot wait until September or October of 2018 to start talking about labor issues and labor candidates. We need to have a “SUMMER OF ACTION” IN 2017. That’s right, 2017.
Let’s knock on doors now. Let’s start making those telephone calls now. We need to do what we started in 2016 – engage in extended conversations about the issues identified above and listen to our members and clarify any concerns that arise.
A good way to start acting on some of the ideas discussed during the Ellison breakfast is the “Family Security & Retiree Power in a Time of Crisis” conference on Saturday May 6, 9-2. You can read more about this event elsewhere in this publication.
Retirees need to mobilize for action!