What to do about jobs: “I’m trying to reinvent myself” and “We need to organize”

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With unemployment in the Twin Cities still high, it’s hard to believe that it’s workers—not jobs—that we’ll be short of in the next ten to twenty years.

It’s especially hard for some one like John Kunesh, one of thirty participants at the Twin Cities Daily Planet’s community conversations on the future of work and jobs. Kunesh worked at a private law firm as a paralegal for 25 years, but lost his job when the economy slowed down. He recently lost his house and moved in with a friend, and is still looking for work.

“It’s the epitome of what can happen even though I was good at my job,” Kunesh said. “It’s eye opening to see that there’ll be jobs opening if, not in the near future, at least in the not too distant future.”

More than thirty Twin Cities residents discussed this issue and others related to work and jobs at three conversations led by the Twin Cities Daily Planet and co-hosted by the Wilder Foundation, Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, and Local 1189 of the United Commercial Food Workers Union.

At the conversations the Wilder Foundation laid out some of Minnesota’s job trajectory using data from MN Compass. Here’s just a glimpse:  The baby boomers are about to retire and will leave behind a whole slew of vacant jobs. Thousands of them.  We’ll see growth among jobs in nearly every industry except in manufacturing, where we’ll lose jobs. But we’ll make those up with new jobs in health care.

As current workers and industry change, so will the demographics of future workers. For instance, the number of minorities is growing (the ratio of whites to people of color in the Twin Cities among 0-14 year-olds is 1:3), and so are egregious educational achievement and employment gaps.  In general, we will rely more heavily on immigrants and minorities to fill vacant job openings, and must attract low and high skilled workers from across the United States and the globe.

 

Join us for our June community conversations on health care!

 

So how are we going to make sure we’ve got skilled and educated workers to fill jobs as the baby boomers retire? And will the jobs that we get in the future provide worse benefits to workers than they did in the past? 

At one conversation Joni Ketter reflected on these questions. “Okay, it may be encouraging that there will be growth in the availability of jobs. But we don’t just need jobs,” Ketter said. “We need good jobs.”

Ketter, who has worked in the labor movement across various states for nearly two decades, acknowledged that a “good” job can mean a lot of different things to lots of different people. She pointed out that many jobs in manufacturing paid fair wages and gave workers health and other benefits, and worries that new jobs in health care or other industries will not pay workers living wages and ensure a decent quality of life.

Most participants at our conversation with UFCW Local 1189 argued that, in response, unions should do a better job at organizing workers and expand into new industries. And yet Mike Dryer, a union representative who works in nursing homes, pointed out that there are some barriers to organizing that didn’t exist before.

“There’s the line that you should just be happy that you have a job,” Dryer said. “That’s the rhetoric you hear over and over and over again.” It’s hard to persuade workers, especially some of the newest immigrants, to think otherwise when unemployment is still up and even poorly paid jobs are scarce.

Dryer works in nursing homes and is a union representative for health care workers. He says he’s seen a deterioration of workers’ basic skills, ability to communicate well (sometimes due to language barriers), and overall education level. So while Dryer sees a need for more organizing, he also sees the importance of improving overall levels of education across the state. 

“Yes, we need to organize,” Dryer said. “But how are workers going to organize if they don’t have an education?”

Making sure that Minnesotans are educated is an issue for employers too, and businesses across the state are beginning to recognize this and put more resources into K-12 education. (Just take the $13 Million that Target, Cargill, General Mills, Medtronic gave to the Minneapolis Public Schools to help fund student success from kindergarten to college.)

Laura Bolstad now works for the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation and received a master’s from the Humphrey Institute. While at the Humphrey, she interviewed professionals in the financial services industry about regional competitiveness.

“What we found is that it’s hard to get people to move here,” Bolstad said. “But once they’re here they don’t want to leave, because of the high quality of life, quality of education and highly educated workforce.”

In order to attract workers and employers to Minnesota in the long term, Bolstad commented, Minnesota must focus on investing in education rather than on tax breaks for companies.

“From what we heard from the financial services professionals, it seems that it’s most important and logical to invest in education, job skills development and also all the general things that make life good here.”    

While Minnesotans debate over work, jobs, and all those general things that make life good here, John Kunesh, the unemployed paralegal and a baby boomer himself, is still patiently waiting for a job.

“I just applied for two jobs that I’m very suited for, but I haven’t gotten one call,” he said. “I’m trying to reinvent myself.”

***

 

COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS ON HEALTH CARE

Last month we talked about the future of work and jobs. In June we’ll be talking about the health care in Minnesota. Join us for the next round of commuity conversations.

We want to hear your thoughts, whether you’re a neighbor, community organizer, local business owner, or elected official. We will report conversations in the Daily Planet for the general public and policy makers. Post your comments below, or join one of our community conversations. Come meet neighbors, get inspired, make decisions, and exchange ideas.

Join us for a community conversation on work and jobs and the New Normal.

Wilder Foundation
June 20, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
Room 2510
451 Lexington Parkway N., Saint Paul
R.S.V.P.  http://tinyurl.com/4263rv5

Pax Salon
June 21, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Mad Hatter Café
943 W 7th, St Paul
R.S.V.P pattypax [at] earthlink.net

Mail lisa@tcdailyplanet.net to volunteer to host a community conversation.

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