Workers Rally for Freedom, a Voice


Nearly 1,000 union members and allies from across Minnesota packed the Capitol Rotunda Saturday to rally for our freedom to join together in strong unions.

Workers gathered in Saint Paul along with 25,000 people in 28 cities across the nation as part of a collective Working People’s Day of Action.

They draped the Rotunda in labor banners in every color, and proudly wore T-shirts, hats and jackets in their bright union colors while chanting for freedom.

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"This is not the first time unions have stood in the way of rich, powerful interests who would like to keep workers in poverty and in danger, big corporations that would keep our communities from the services they need and the equitable future they deserve," said Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and former president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. "They will learn, there is power in a union and we are here for good.”

The nationwide rallies come in response to the anti-worker case Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday morning. Corporate elites and extremists are bankrolling Janus. They’ve already rigged the system in their favor, and now they’re out to stack the deck even more by limiting our freedom to speak up for ourselves, our families and our communities.

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The rally Saturday spoke powerfully to our need to come together in strong unions and fight for equitable pay, affordable health care, quality schools and a secure future for all.

“Right now our values are under attack,” said Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. “Right now we’re having to fight for some of our most basic rights … When you try to silence the voices of Americans, those voices only get louder. This is a moment that demands action.”

As with the Civil Rights Movement, children and grandchildren will turn to their parents and grandparents someday and ask them, “What did you do?”

“When I think of labor rights, when I think of human rights, women’s rights and civil rights, you know what all those movements had in common?” Carter asked.

“Unions,” the crowd chanted. Carter urged workers to talk to their lawmakers and their neighbors, to door knock and to vote.

AFSCME Council 5 secretary Mary Falk took to the stage with her grandson, Michael, who wore a tiny AFSCME jacket and carried a green sign proclaiming, "It's About Freedom!"
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Falk told the crowd that being union means her family has health insurance they can count on and afford to use. As a diabetic, that’s especially important.

“When we get sick, all we have to worry about is getting well – not how we’re going to pay the medical bills,” Falk says. “It means an illness won‘t bankrupt our family. That peace of mind is priceless.”

It’s not just heath care. Falk pointed out that unions are helping win earned safe and sick time and higher minimum wages – for all workers.

“We’re united in a belief that our state can be a place where everyone is able to live a secure, happy and healthy life,” Falk said. “We believe all workers should have the freedom to join together in strong unions. That’s how we build a brighter future for our families and our communities.”  

One of our allies, Asad Aliweyd of the New American Development Center, said the wealthy extremists behind Janus are the same people who are trying to cheat immigrant workers, deport them and tear their families apart.

“They don’t want us to have a place in this country,” he said. “I’m here because it’s so important for working people to stand together, stick up for one another, raise their voices to fight injustices, and push for safeguards and laws that help all those who work in this country – whether native born or aspiring Americans.”

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It’s thanks to unions that personal care attendants, who help seniors and people with disabilities stay in their homes, aren’t stuck making only $6.15 an hour anymore.

“We provided loving care, but had to work two or three jobs, had no benefits, no paid training, no time off, nothing,” said SEIU Healthcare Minnesota member Deb Howze. They’ve since won a $12 minimum wage, plus paid holidays, time off and training.

“No matter what they throw at us, we won't stop fighting for our families and our communities,” Howze said. “If we come together, we can’t be stopped. No court case can prevent all of us from fighting for better lives for our families and our communities.”

Other allies who spoke included NAVIGATE, a small business owner and OutFront Minnesota. The rally opened with a blessing from Imam Mahmud Kanyare of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota and Pastor Eric Hoffer.

The Day of Action was hosted by AFSCME, Education Minnesota, SEIU, MAPE, Teamsters, Inter-Faculty Organization, Minnesota Nurses Association, Middle Management Association, Jobs with Justice, MN AFL-CIO, and the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Regional Labor Federations.