Bloomington workers discuss economic issues


Building Trades workers, teachers, government workers, hotel workers — all were represented at a “Bloomington Economic Issues Roundtable” hosted May 17 by the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation at the Bloomington Armory. About 35-40 people attended. Public officials present included: Mayor Gene Winstead; City Council members Tom Hulting, Steve Peterson, and Vern Wilcox, and Metropolitan Council member Steve Elkins.

“In Bloomington alone we have about 6,000 union men and women,” said Bill McCarthy, president of the MRLF, who grew up in Bloomington.

And while about 85,000 people live in Bloomington, about 100,000 people work there, McCarthy noted.

“I’ve been a Pipefitter for 25 years,” said Bloomington resident Gerald Hollenback, Local 539 member. “Communities do better when community members, including union members, are working.”

Hollenback emphasized the importance of collective bargaining rights and other policies that protect workers like prevailing wage and project labor agreements. “When workers have a voice, everyone in the community benefits, not just union members,” he said.

Bloomington resident Lynne Scherer, a retired teacher, echoed Hollenback’s concern with workplace rights as a foundation for a strong community.

Bloomington resident and AFSCME member Roger Janzig agreed. “We believe in living wage jobs — and that’s gotten from collective bargaining.”

Mayor Winstead reviewed current development in the city and highlighted two local semi-conductor manufacturing firms that he said are making Bloomington known as “Silicon Tundra.”

Martin Goff of UNITE HERE Local 17 spoke up about concerns about the large number of low-wage workers who work in the city’s primarily non-union hotels. “The city doesn’t benefit from $8 per hour jobs from adults who need two or three,” he said.

“If our residents are all working at a good wage, every other problem the city has goes away,” observed Winstead.

“Labor hasn’t been real active here in the past,” the MRLF’s McCarthy said. “We hope we can build a stronger relationship.”

Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.