Feehan, labor leaders discuss Labor Day

Dan Feehan, Democratic caandidate for Minnesota’s First Congressional District, held a virtual Labor Day listening Session with leaders in organized labor, Monday.

Feehan said it was a chance to talk about the organized labor movement, a chance to reflect on holiday and the difficulty of working in 2020.

“Labor Day is something that has been earned and not given,” he said. “It is an important reminder for the challenges we face, they will not be simply given. They will be earned in much the same way.”

He opposes the right to work laws, preferring to invest in apprenticeships.

“I am going to fight for those jobs by pushing for a large federal infrastructure bill,” he said. He also called for fixing to the health care system in terms of affordable prescription drugs and affordable care. “It is just as critical that puts money back in the pockets of working people.”

Turning to the panel, Pommella Wegmann, president of the Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council, said, “Workers have been hit hard this year because of COVID-19. As we celebrate Labor Day I ask everyone to keep in mind all the frontline essential workers.”

She cited the hard work teachers, healthcare workers, postal workers, construction workers, grocery store workers and meatpacking workers who were going above and beyond during this crisis.

Wegmann also asked people to remember the thousands across the country who are unemployed during this economic crisis.

President of the Mankato Building Trade Council Stacey Karels also gave thanks for the holiday. He said labor fought hard for it. Karels said work in the building trade has been strong in the last 10 years, but COVID has led to a downturn. He believed continued funding from the federal infrastructure bill and state funding for a bonding bill things might improve, but without it, things will slow down.

“Our members in the area will have to travel or they will be sitting waiting for the next job,” Karels said.

Feehan said as a congressman he would work on the federal side but supported a state bonding bill because both are needed for stability.

Josh Kalina, with Iron Workers 512, gave a brief history lesson to the panel. He said today the 126th Labor Day celebration.

“Many people have fought and died for the rights we have today,” he said. Karels listed the labor movements achievements including the eight hour workday, vacation time and sick pay. “Labor has always stood strong in expanding worker’s rights and trying to fight the good fight to make it so we have the things we need and deserve.”

Kalina said on August 16, 1937 Congress passed the National Apprenticeship Act. The purpose of the act was to promote the furtherance of labor standards and apprenticeship. He said those who complete registered apprenticeship programs earn an annual salary of $60,000 on average. Kalina was concerned the current administration would not expand this program, but would rather pursue an untested and unauthorized industry run plan that does not protect the welfare of apprentices.

Barbara Andrew representing SCIU Healthcare shared a story of how SCIU Healthcare came together to prevent a new company from taking away benefits. Through a landslide vote, her union was able to regain the benefits taken away.

“I hear from so many people now in the pandemic that they would love to be union members,” Andrew said. “I hear from so many front line workers they feel unsafe and disposable.”

Feehan said many significant changes will be needed to tackle this pandemic.

“We still have no national strategy,” he said. “We have no national plan to test and trace, nor have we put the resources toward it to have the same testing capabilities for a professional basketball player as we do a teacher.”

Feehan asked the labor leaders what there a top priority for Congress in January 2021.

President of the Southeast Minnesota Building and Construction Trade Council, Nate O’Reily said transportation and infrastructure were a top priority. He included rural broadband in that infrastructure need.

Stacey Karels agreed on the federal infrastructure bill needed to get done because bridges and roads are crumbling.

Wegmann wanted the Heroes Act passed to inject stimulus money into the pockets of working people, but also industries that are struggling. She also wanted the People’s Right to Organize (PRO) Act passed because it would be a major reformation of labor law. She believed it would help unions, but also help all workers to help them speak up against unsafe working conditions without fear of retaliation.

“We also need to expand labor rights to agriculture and domestic workers who are currently excluded from the national labor relations act who do not have a right to unionize,” she said.

Feehan closed the discussion session by reminding viewers the country is not far from the significant struggles in the labor movement. He views this struggle as part of the significant struggle for equity in this country.

“Equity in the workplace is one of the forefront ways we can fight,” Feehan said.

Feehan’s campaign motto is “People First.” For that reason, he has pledged not to take corporate PAC money. “I want to make sure I am listening to the voices of working people on the ground.”

Feehan said he would fight for workers in Congress. He backs the People’s Right to Organize (PRO) Act to help secure worker’s rights and a federal prevailing wage. “It is not just a function of having a job, it is having a job with the dignity that pays the bills.


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