Bernie Hesse is the Director of Special Projects and Political Director at UFCW Local 1189. Hesse took a break from contract negotiations for grocery workers to talk to the Twin Cities Daily Planet about the future of unions and jobs in Minnesota. “We believe that working people should be paid a good and fair wage,” he told the Daily Planet. “Nobody should have to worry about whether or not they can afford health care or put food on the table.”
TCDP: So where are unions going?
The labor movement that we’re going to see down the road is much less bureaucratic.
I see hope in the Jimmy John’s stuff going on. I’m kind of excited to see youth organizing and running their own campaigns.
I look at the whole thing with the grocery cleaners and their attempt to organize and lift their workers up. Out in New York City, there’s a move to unionize 27 Target stores. This summer we intend to ramp up and engage with other retail workers at Target, and we’ve run other projects at Walmart.
I think you’re going to see more community based organizing, less bureaucracy. We have to identify workers that can become leaders and then have people realize that they are the union, and then figure out how to move them along.
TCDP: How has Wisconsin changed organizing in Minnesota?
It’s taught people who are members of unions what it means. It’s opened up their eyes to know that workers are under attack. I think people saw through the charade of trying to do something with the budget by curtailing bargaining.
And I also think it’s really got people involved in the electoral process. I worked in Wisconsin knocking on doors and people said they didn’t realize what it meant to have one person in office over another until now. And then people got engaged. A teacher friend of mine in Eau Claire has never been that active, and lo and behold he went to the capitol to protest.
More immediately, here in Minnesota people realize that … we could have been a Wisconsin. Now, I think Dayton’s a good guy, but he’s not our salvation –workers have to be that ourselves—but I think people realize what those 8,000 votes really meant.
TCDP: What are the biggest battles being fought by unions in Minnesota right now?
On the public side, it’s the all out war on public workers and teachers. And that’s used as a distraction so that people think that the financial meltdown was caused by these overly generous contracts, which is a myth.
Right now we’ve got contract negotiations with 4,000 to 5,000 retail workers in the East Metro. We’re also involved in the “United for a Fair Economy” campaign. We’re going to start telling the story about how corporations are running the country.
Private sector workers have been under attack for so long [laughing] so there’s not much new there. But certainly the availability of money in the Citizens United Case has changed things.
Citizens United allows these corporations to use money into campaigns and independent messaging. Often they –the corporations- point to labor spending on political campaigns, but they outspend us 10:1. They’ll always have more money than we do, so we have to rely on people power.
TCDP: How do you see the Minnesota job market changing in the next decade?
One, I think we have to make a public acknowledgement right now that for every job, at least in Ramsey County there are eight people looking. In manufacturing we realize there’ll probably be less people working in our processing plants due to innovations. In retail, there’ll be a number of opportunities to organize.
We need to partner with the schools and figure out what the demand will be. So that if we need 100 meat cutters we don’t turn out 1,000. So we probably need to do more market surveys.
We don’t realize how much of economic engines places like Frogtown, Midway, North End and the West Side are.
Also we’re getting a lot of opportunities in the local food scene and the whole thing around nutritious food. There could be anything from folks getting into urban farming to processing that food, to folks getting into neighborhoods where there are folks that are underserved and offering food that’s not only nutritious but also that’s culturally appropriate.
Retail is the fastest growing economy for jobs, so I think we’ve got to be very strategic for that. There’ll be lots more health care workers, some green jobs there’ll be opportunities to organize.
CORRECTION: UFCW Local 1189