The hour was early on a Saturday morning, but 66 union members turned out April 16 at Peter’s on Lake Ripley in Litchfield, MN for a meeting with Republican Representative Dean Urdahl.
The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation organized the meeting to give union members a chance to share their concerns about the direction of the legislative session with Urdahl, who is a potential swing vote.
The meeting began with three union members asking questions of Urdahl: a public employee, a teacher, and a construction worker.
“I maintain the roads and bridges and plow snow,” said Darin Mahlow,
Litchfield, a member of AFSCME Local 592. “All the services we’ve come to expect are in jeopardy.”
He asked Urdahl about supporting Governor Dayton’s proposal to raise income taxes on the top 5-10 percent of taxpayers.
Stacy Welborn, Litchfield, a member Education Minnesota Litchfield, said, “we are in a difficult situation in this state and in this country but that’s probably NOT because the people in this room are making too much money… We in the union are being scapegoated.” She told Representative Urdahl: “We need your help.”
Joe Kramer, Watkins, a member of Operating Engineers Local 49, asked Urdahl about supporting a bonding bill (Urdahl said he would, but would support only about one-half the amount Governor Dayton proposed).
Kramer observed: “All the guys in the construction industry want to work… Like one guy said, ‘if I ain’t working, I ain’t paying taxes.’”
Representative Urdahl, who was first elected in 2002, spoke to the group. “I am a union member. I am one of you. I spent 35 years as a teacher and 10 years as an Education Minnesota president.”
He shared some criticism of some of the legislation pushed by members of his caucus: “I cannot understand why… if we’re talking about job growth and job stimulation why we want to attack the rights of workers.” He added: “we’re supposed to be concentrating on jobs.”
In the following 10 days, the MRLF organized three other labor constituent meetings with Republican Representative Jim Abeler in Anoka, Republican Representative Steve Smith in Mound, and DFL Senator Terri Bonoff in Plymouth. Each event drew almost 70 constituents.
The MRLF meetings were part of a series of meetings across the state between union members and key legislators coordinated by the Minnesota AFL-CIO.