On a sunny Saturday morning Oct. 20, dozens of union volunteers trickled into a coffee shop downtown Burnsville. They paired up, gathered routes and handbills, and fanned out across the suburb, knocking on fellow union members’ doors and talking about their labor-endorsed candidate for Minnesota House, Will Morgan. Similar campaign activities have been taking place in Stillwater, Woodbury and other East Metro suburbs this fall, and they reveal a key strategy behind Minnesota unions’ Labor 2012 campaign: Building a better Legislature means winning in the suburbs.
“These are the races that have been tight in recent elections,” said Bobby Kasper, president of the 50,000-member St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, which organized the door-knock in Burnsville last month. “We know they are going to be really tight again this year, and labor-endorsed candidates are going to need every union vote in order to win.”
The St. Paul RLF, working with the Minnesota AFL-CIO and other union federations, has identified eight races critical to rebuilding a pro-middle class majority in the Legislature. Those candidates come from places like Shoreview, Stillwater, Woodbury, Eagan and Burnsville – places where “Tea Party” candidates swept into office two years ago, helping Republicans gain majorities in both the Minnesota House and Senate for the first time in decades.
Despite winning by narrow margins in these suburban districts, freshmen lawmakers did not seek out the middle ground at the Capitol. Rather, many of them sought to push their party to new extremes, shutting down the state government, attacking collective bargaining rights and pushing Right to Work legislation that would undermine the middle class.
Volunteers in Burnsville reported hearing a lot of frustration from union members they have talked to during door-knocks and phone banks.
“When you talk to union members out here about what the Legislature has done for middle class families, they say they are fed up with the gridlock, with the attempts to divide people,” said Mark Krey, a rank-and-file member of SEIU Local 284. “We need to get people elected who are running because they want to do good for the community – not people who just want to take the seat for the Republican Party.”
The Burnsville campaign event was the fourth door-knock this fall for Troy Eisenhuth, a member Teamsters Local 120. “I know my livelihood is at stake,” he said. “If these guys pass Right to Work, they take away my union – and they take away everything I’ve got.”