Following family tradition means fighting for workers
Union work and activism aren’t new to MAPE’s newest organizer Britton Mikkelsen. She grew up in Nebraska, where her parents were involved in union work. “My mother was a teacher and my dad worked for the union. I know how important labor organizing is. Organizing is moving people in strategic ways when sometimes nothing feels strategic. The energy feeds my soul,” Mikkelsen said.
She said she was excited to accept a position with MAPE because of the vastness of membership and jobs MAPE represents. “One of the problems we’re facing in the labor movement is unions being pitted against each other. I am fascinated by the work MAPE has done to build cohesion across the union.”
Mikkelsen moved to Minnesota in 2014 to attend St. Cloud State University and graduated with a political science degree. Before coming to MAPE Britton worked in St Cloud for TakeAction Minnesota.
One of her first projects with MAPE was the Rally for Our Contract event at the Capitol in July. “It was a chance to re-energize our base during COVID-19. People really get a lot from engaging with each other and we thought this could help our contract over the line. It was really neat to be part of trying to strengthen something so powerful so quickly. I’ve been working with some really awesome members,” Mikkelsen added.
Some of those members include those working to rebuild a Meet and Confer team at Local 1402’s Lake Superior College in the Duluth area. “We’re trying to strengthen the M&C team and the administration is very anti-union. There still is the thing in the back of your head that you could get fired for trying to better your community and stepping up into the firing zone. We can figure that out together. Yes, there is a risk to being involved in the union but what allows us to be strong is to stand together and protect each other.” Mikkelsen said.
Mikkelsen has also done site visits at Century College, Oak Park Heights and Stillwater correctional facilities, as well as the Minnesota Departments of Transportation and Human Services. “I wanted to see where people were at and see their union engagement. Being a community organizer by trade, I think that if you bring food and show up, people will show up,” she joked.
“In political work, you have to meet people where they are at and not pull them into a revolution. I’ll email folks and invite them to meet with me – lunches at parking lots at prisons, breakfast at the college. There’s a lot of interest in the union at Local 1202 – and a lot of great stories where the union has stood up for members. It’s really powerful. It’s important to hear how the union helped them keep their pensions,” Mikkelsen said.
As a child, Mikkelsen’s father would take her campaign door-knocking and to political screenings. “I gained a lot from that and learned quickly from a young age how to talk with people. As a canvasser, I grew up with a very clear picture of people who didn’t grow up with unions and those who did,” she said.
Mikkelsen said she looks forward to working with members to develop skills about having hard conversations. “I’m excited about bringing deep canvassing skills to a very short version of a one-on-one. You learn about their values and you’re pushing them to get information. Their one vote matters but what matters as much is we’re positioning them for future generations.”
She learned while campaigning for state Sen. Aric Putnam in low-voter turnout areas after talking about health care and other issues, there often wasn’t much buy-in. “But after a couple of years, we were able to have deeper conversations. Perhaps the values they were taught to believe may not be what they actually believe. Being able to identify who are the bad guys, who are the good actors – it wasn’t necessarily Aric Putnam, it was the people trying to get Aric elected. I think a lot of members have these skills sets and I want to help strengthen them,” Mikkelsen said.