President's Corner: Year in Review
As I sit down to write my final President’s Corner column of the year, I still find it hard to believe that 2021 is nearly over. It has been a difficult year, to say the least, but one also filled with resilience, increased member engagement, a hard negotiated contract and nationwide gains made by the labor movement.
MAPE members have kept Minnesota state government running in a pandemic for more than 20 months, and it has been nearly all-hands-on-deck in many agencies. We have worked around the clock trying to keep our fellow Minnesotans safe from COVID-19, including those living in our neighborhoods, direct care and treatment centers, State veterans homes, nursing homes, schools and correctional facilities.
We have fought the alpha, delta and now the omicron variant of COVID-19. Each time we hear the newest variant could be more contagious and more deadly than the last. Members risk their lives and health, and the health of their families, when they come in contact with those infected with COVID-19.
MAPE’s Negotiations Committee rose to the task of bargaining our 2021-2023 contract with a challenging Minnesota Management and Budget team who initially didn’t seem to believe in investing in employees, just taking from them. I was honored to be part of our team as we came together from regions across the state with different perspectives on our priorities including healthcare, equity and anti-racism.
We secured major victories for members including strong wage increases, added significant benefits like 3D mammograms to our health insurance with no major changes in out-of-pocket expenses or share of premium costs, added Juneteenth as a holiday and more.
We had amazing member engagement. We worked to make the negotiations process more open and transparent, held more tele-townhalls and contract actions with the governor than ever before, produced contract videos and increased membership in our text and social media campaigns.
But one of the true highlights of the year was when nearly 1,000 members from Moorhead to Marshall, and many cities in between, rallied at the Capitol in support of MAPE’s contract in July. We heard members address our priority issues and many of those stories were inspiring and heartbreaking. I don’t think it was a coincidence that negotiators reached a tentative agreement just hours later.
It was also exciting to see so many of our labor allies and community partners at the rally. We negotiated closely with aligned bargaining units and it is great to see MAPE crossing traditional trade union boundaries into the teachers and other groups. We have worked hard to join forces with community partners so we can work together to improve working conditions for all employees in our state.
We were fortunate to partner again with many of these same groups on Frontline Workers. The coalition of groups is trying to help legislators determine how to distribute the $250 million allocated to assist more than 600,000 employees who’ve worked tirelessly on the frontlines during COVID-19. State officials recently announced a record $7.7 billion surplus, and the coalition believes all frontline workers should receive $1,500. The cost to the State is $1.1 billion, and a quarter of that has already been set aside. Frontline workers who continue to put themselves at risk to keep others safe should be acknowledged and rewarded.
The pandemic has made many of us rethink our priorities and values. Nationally, labor union approval is at 68 percent – the highest it’s been since 1965. The pandemic has clearly shown us the inequities in our system and the need for collective action. I think all of the strikes we’re seeing around the country will encourage other workers to speak out for the fair wages, benefits and respect we all deserve. A Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, recently voted to form a union and for the first time, the famously anti-union coffee store conglomerate will have to bargain with organized labor at one of its stores. Employees at one of my favorite bookstores in the Twin Cities, Half-Price Books, also recently voted to form a union.
Our own union has a busy year ahead of us. Our top priority will be getting the Legislature to pass our 2021-2023 contract. It’s also an election year and we’ll be seeking your help in electing pro-worker candidates statewide. Thousands of members have given us input as we work to move MAPE forward as we complete a comprehensive strategic plan that will help guide our union for the next several years. I look forward to updating you on the plan’s progress in 2022. By the end of the year, we’ll be getting ready for negotiations for our 2023-25 contract.
Like many of you, I am looking forward to this holiday season as a period of rest, renewal and focused family time. Our MAPE family wishes you and everyone in your family a season of peace, hope and good health.