State AFL-CIO unions vote to fund ambitious election plan

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Minnesota AFL-CIO unions have approved a significant budget increase to enable the state labor federation to implement its most ambitious plan ever for supporting worker-friendly candidates in the 2006 elections.

At the same time, delegates to the special convention held Friday in St. Paul acknowledged that the higher assessment will cause a hardship for some organizations, especially smaller union locals.

The state AFL-CIO collects affiliation fees from its member unions in the form of a “per capita tax” on each member. With some opposition, delegates approved on a voice vote an increase from 65 cents per member per month to 90 cents per member per month, effect July 1.

The increase will raise about $700,000 a year and will go directly to hire full-time field staff in all regions of the state to work on mobilization and education, Minnesota AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Steve Hunter said.

The field staff will focus initially on this fall’s elections, then move on to local union and community issues, said Ray Waldron, president of the state AFL-CIO.

In November, Minnesotans will elect a governor, the entire Legislature, eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives and a U.S. Senator.

Working people “need to elect worker-friendly people” to these offices, said Mike Buesing, president of AFSCME Council 5, the state’s largest public employee union. “In most cases, we don’t have them right now.”

The election “impacts everything in our working lives,” said Judy Schaubach, president of Education Minnesota, a union of 70,000 teachers and other educators.

The election field staff will be assigned to six geographic areas that unions identified as “area labor councils” in the 2003 New Alliance process. The ALCs, as they are known, were expected to be up and running by now, but have been bogged down by a failure to reach consensus on governance issues.

When the election is over, “we will resume the negotiations on the area labor councils” and the per capita increase will stay in place to fund the councils, Hunter said. “If people don’t think it’s working, they’ll have an opportunity to bring an amendment to a future constitutional convention.”

Representatives of three local unions spoke out against the increase, saying there was no way they could absorb the cost or pass it along to members in the form of higher dues. Bruce Lotti, president of United Steelworkers Local 1028 in Duluth, said his local would likely be forced to drop its affiliation with the Duluth Central Labor Body in order to make the state payments. He read a letter drafted by his local announcing that decision, adding, “I hope I don’t have to send this letter.”

Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council President Dick Anfang said local Building Trades unions face similar hardships.

“I sympathize with these local unions that say they can’t afford it,” he said. “I say you can’t afford not to.”

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