By MAPE Executive Director Lina Jamoul
The words of Margaret Mead have been ringing in my ears since I heard the news our contract was approved:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
The last several months have been quite the journey for our union. From the contract rejection by the Subcommittee on Employee Relations (SER) to political games on the House floor early in session to this week’s passage of our contract and the governor’s signature on it, we have fought hard for this moment, and I hope you’re taking time to celebrate.
It hasn’t been easy. Many of our members reached out to their legislators after we ratified this contract. “I felt like we were lied to,” MAPE member Lindsay, Minnesota State, said after the SER voted to recommend rejection of MAPE’s 2017-19 contract. Lindsay and seven other MAPE members had met with their state senator a few weeks before the SER meeting and Lindsay left the meeting believing he was supportive of them and their contract but he ended up voting against it.
After the SER vote, I spoke with hundreds of members at local meetings and continually heard the same comments: The vote was a move to undermine the union, devalue the state workforce and undermine quality government services. We felt disrespected and angry. But working together we turned that defeat into an opportunity to organize and build power.
We reached out to legislators, and we made approving the contract personal. You told them what failure to pass the contract would mean for you and your families. You took the time to educate them about the work you do, work that keeps our state running and makes Minnesota great. You made this an issue they couldn’t afford to ignore. They couldn’t afford to ignore Darci who was not able to get needed dental work for her teenage daughter. Or Adrienne who barely had enough vacation time to spend a few no-school days with her kids, and future parents who were anxious to spend needed and necessary time with their new babies.
Then we showed up in person. More than 1,200-strong, with allies, we rallied on the Capitol steps on a freezing day in February, the start of this year's legislative session. As legislators returned to work, you reminded them that you’d never left. You were working, day in and day out, to keep Minnesota working. Workers like Liz, who supports the rights of students with disabilities at the Department of Education; Jenna, who studies diseases and help keeps Minnesotans well at the Department of Health; Jason, who cleans up emergency spills at the Pollution Control Agency.
Last week, 150 of you came back to the Capitol for Day on the Hill to keep our message moving forward, and to tell your stories. For many of you, it was the first time. Whatever motivated you, whether it was the last election or the inaction on the contract or something else entirely, your presence in St. Paul helped move the needle a little further.
The Legislature tried playing games with the state union contracts. MAPE members, together with our allies, showed them there was a cost to that. Thanks to your efforts we have a signed contract. What’s next?
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon announce a decision that is meant to deal a blow to the freedom of workers to join together in unions. We’ve proven that we can stand together for what is right and what is just. There’s an old organizing saying, “You get as much justice as you have the power to compel.” If we want fair working conditions, we need to build a powerful organization. We will be called to do that again and again in the coming months. I’m ready, hopeful and inspired by the actions we’ve taken together. Let’s continue to build a union together that can hold the line -- for our co-workers, our families and our communities.