Minimum-wage victory showcases potential of labor-community partnerships
On April 14, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill gradually raising Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2016 and indexing the wage so that it keeps pace with inflation beginning in 2018.
The bill signing was a victory for more than 350,000 workers statewide who are expected to see a raise as a result of the bill. But it also marked a victory for the coalition of unions, religious groups and other non-profits that united to push the minimum-wage hike across the finish line.
“We’ve seen what an impact we can make when we come together,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said after the bill-signing ceremony in the Capitol rotunda. “It felt good.”
The Minnesota AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation, was one of several union groups that took a leadership role in the Raise the Wage Coalition, which united more than 70 diverse organizations behind a minimum-wage increase.
After DFL majorities in the House and Senate failed to agree on a minimum-wage bill last spring, unions and labor federations pledged to invest energy, resources and political capital into seeing a meaningful increase pass before the 2014 session gaveled to a close. They made the commitment despite the fact, as Knutson pointed out, “the vast majority of Minnesota’s union workforce makes well above the minimum wage.”
“The labor movement is committed to improving the lives of all working people,” Knutson said. “Like Paul Wellstone said, ‘We all do better when we all do better.’”
Unions’ leadership role in the Raise the Wage Coalition reflected local action on a nationwide directive put forth at the AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles last year. Known as “Resolution 16,” the directive calls on state and local labor federations to build “enduring partnerships” with community groups that share values and goals with the labor movement.
With the minimum-wage campaign, Minnesota unions backed up the AFL-CIO’s talk with action, said St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper, whose office coordinated 96 volunteer shifts on behalf of the minimum-wage push this year.
“Building a movement for economic justice isn’t possible unless we look beyond our own unions and reach out to our allies in that struggle,” Kasper said. “Whether it’s fighting Right to Work or defending prevailing wage, our position will only be stronger if we have members of the broader community behind us, but we can’t expect their support if we don’t step up when they need us.”