Change to Win Coalition Forms in Minnesota

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Six Minnesota unions that represent more than 140,000 workers have announced the formation of the Minnesota Change to Win Coalition.

The Coalition intends to address the globalization of the nation’s economy and the negative impact it is having on the lives of working people in Minnesota, officers said.

“The Change to Win Coalition is about building power for working people through bringing more people into the labor movement,” said Terry Healy, Laborers International Vice President and Regional Manager. “Through growth we can negotiate better contracts for our members, lift industry standards for union and non union members, and in general improve the wages, benefits and working conditions of all workers.”

On a national level, seven unions, representing more than 6 million workers across the United States, came together in July to form the Change to Win Coalition. Six of these unions have organizations in Minnesota, including the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters, Laborers’ International Union of North America, UNITE HERE, Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

Three of the unions — Teamsters, SEIU and UFCW — decided in July to leave the national AFL-CIO. The Carpenters left four years ago. UNITE HERE and the Laborers are still members of the AFL-CIO.

Representatives of the six Minnesota coalition partners are meeting to identify ways to work together, officers said. One of the many areas of agreement among the six organizations is support for the striking workers at Northwest Airlines.

“We support the airline workers and their families as they stand up for their right to have job security, adequate benefits and a living wage,” said Jaye Rykunyk, UNITE HERE International Vice President. “Furthermore, the tactics being used by Northwest Airlines to break the will of the striking workers will have dire consequences for all unions. We have to help the airline workers succeed for the future of our own members.”

In addition to supporting the striking airline workers, the coalition partners are beginning efforts to share information and resources around both organizing and politics.

“The Change to Win Coalition is the necessary next stage of American unionism,” stated Julie Schnell, President SEIU MN State Council. “Wal-Mart is establishing an employment trend that includes poverty wages, inadequate benefits, and restrictions on workers’ freedom to form a union. Change to Win Coalition partners are combating that trend with an intense focus on organizing new members so that through industry density we can bargain more effectively with employers to improve workers’ lives.”

While Coalition partners are committed to expending significant resources to organize new members, they said they know that growth alone will not improve the lives of working families. They continue to emphasize the need to elect and educate public officials to attain supportive public policies. Labor unions had a significant impact on the outcome of the 2004 elections in Minnesota. Union household voters accounted for 30 percent of the vote in 2004, despite representing 19 percent of Minnesota workers.

“Clearly we know how to educate and mobilize union members to act in the best interest of their families,” said Scott Malcolm from the Carpenters. “Although we fully intend to continue working in the political arena, we are at a point when we can no longer rely on politics to reverse the decline of the labor movement. Our work with politicians is intended to fuel our growth.”

The founding convention of the national Change to Win Coalition is scheduled to take place in late September and will further inform the state Coalition about future work together. In the meantime, Coalition partners are continuing to meet and make plans.

“This coalition is made up of representatives of construction workers, school employees, meat cutters, janitors, truck drivers, servers, carpenters, health care workers and countless other hard working Minnesotans,” said Ron Zwieg, President UFCW Local 653. “While we have a lot to figure out in regards to the future of working together to grow and build strength, none of us have lost sight of the fact that we have a responsibility to improve the lives of our members and all Minnesotans.”

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