By Dan Mikel
Thanks to President Ken McInnes and many others, our State Retiree Council just finished its successful 22nd Annual Convention which was a great example of people joining together to exercise our freedom to stand together in union.
At our convention, I recalled going to a retiree convention in the very early 1950’s. My “Grandpa Jensen”, a long-time UAW Local 600 member in Detroit, took me, a young boy, to the annual UAW retiree conventions, complete with free hot dogs and ice cream. At these conventions I learned about the labor movement. I especially remember UAW President Walter Reuther addressing us. After trying to sing a vaguely familiar song, I asked my grandpa, “What does solidarity mean?” We had just sung a resounding rendition of “Solidarity Forever.” My Grandpa told me, “It is union. We are all working together.” I’ve never forgotten that.
Later in junior high and senior high I learned some basic facts about labor unions. The Wagner Act, granting labor unions the right to organize, was passed during the Roosevelt Administration in the middle 1930’s. After World War II, Republicans controlled Congress and passed the infamous Taft Hartley Act. Section 14b gave states the option of being “right to work” states.
Now, in 2018, the United States Supreme Court said in the Janus Decision that public employees need not be members of unions to receive the benefits of union members. Unions still must defend and protect the rights of those non-member workers.
Right wing groups have been promoting “opt out” of union membership in a wide variety of states and union jurisdictions. Step-by-step procedures for different situations are provided as efforts are made to encourage members to leave unions.
With the Janus decision, public employees will have to “opt in” to a union to maintain membership. There are “election windows” in different states and jurisdictions.
The weakening of labor unions will spread from the public sector to the private sector like the California wildfires of mid-summer.
Why should retirees care? Our union brothers and sisters we left when we retired are being denied the same retirement pensions and packages we have. Next it will be our sons, daughters and grandchildren. Wages have been stagnant for years; health care coverage is precarious; hours and staffing requirements are cruelly manipulated. The fabric of our society is being ripped apart. Strong winds and rain have ripped into the Carolinas and other states causing great damage and the Janus decision is causing similar damage to the women and men of the labor movement.
Look at what’s happened in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker. His anti-union attitude and actions preceded Janus. There is no real collective bargaining for teachers. Teachers are probationary employees for their entire careers as they can be dismissed at will. Both public and private wages are 14.9% lower in Wisconsin than the national average. Anti-union actions are now legal since the Janus decision. Our freedom is in jeopardy.
Retirees and active workers need to join together to protect hard earned rights. Let’s stand together in union and protect our freedoms. Now more than ever.
Let us have work places that enable workers to have time with family. Let us have affordable health care, clean and safe environments and workplaces, good schools, Social Security and Medicare. Let workers be able to retire with dignity.
To borrow a political phrase from union-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz, we need to be “One Minnesota.” What I learned as a young boy at a retiree convention a long, long time ago still rings as true as the Liberty Bell:
For the union makes us strong.