Congressional Labor Roundtables

In May, AFSCME 2822 delegates to the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation (MLRF) attended two congressional roundtable discussions with US House Representatives Ilhan Omar (MNCD5) and Dean Phillips (MNCD3). This was historic as both these US reps are new to Congress. Phillip’s election marks the end of a 58 -year streak of Republican representation in the Third Congressional District. Topics covered in these discussions: federal government shutdown, DED/TPS (Deferred Enforced Departure/ Temporary Protected Status), federal infrastructure spending for Southwest and Bottineau light rail lines, and Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

Reps Phillips and Omar were in alignment on some issues but not on others. Rep. Omar specifically thanked the multiple AFSCME representatives for being there in green. Ilhan Omar is herself a former member of AFSCME Local 3800. Rep. Omar is the Congressional Whip of the Progressive Caucus and she is on the House Education and Labor Committee. She supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Omar is a cosponsor of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, and she is a co -sponsor of the PRO Act. She spoke about the critical need to protect workers' right to stand together and negotiate for better working conditions. She says this bill still needs about 30 more co-sponsors before it can leave committee. She urged delegates to ask other congressional representatives to support this bill.

Rep. Phillips however does not at this time support the PRO act. Phillips is a member of the bi-partisan Problem Solvers Caucus. Phillips spoke at length about the need to build bridges across political divisions. He knows that his seat will be targeted so he says he is taking a defensive approach to his first term. Phillips supports organized labor’s larger goals, but he says can't be on the front lines in every battle. He said if he was looking for an approval score from organized labor it would be something more like an 80%. Phillips spoke about the essential need to protect collective bargaining rights, and that he supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour (In more recent news articles, Phillips said he is on the fence about a bill raising the federal minimum wage, saying there are “better mechanisms”). Phillips emphasized his desire to be in the right side of history with this but says he needs time to persuade members of the opposing party. Regarding the PRO Act, Phillips objects to language which would remove existing prohibitions on workers engaging in secondary solidarity strikes at other companies. Phillips said that secondary strikes are unfair and a hard line for him.

Both Reps Omar and Phillips are in agreement that infrastructure spending for light rail and broadband access is critical for Minnesota. They both agree that it’s a matter of economic justice, and reminded us that Minnesota ranks 10th for highest contributor of federal taxes, yet is 41st in the amount of federal spending allocated to our state.

On the topic of DED/TPS, both Reps Phillips and Omar are co-sponsors of the American Dream and Promise act. This bill would give a pathway to permanent resident status for DED and TPS recipients who have been in the U.S. for three years and without felony convictions or more than one misdemeanor. After five years as a permanent resident, they could then apply for citizenship. Both representatives agreed that protecting Minnesota’s Liberian community is essential, and nothing less than a pathway to citizenship would suffice. On this subject Rep Phillips noted that he and his fellow Problem Solvers Caucus took the extra steps of reaching out to the White House. According to Phillips, as a result of this dialogue, the White House was persuaded to extend DED for another year. A representative from SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, which has many Liberian members, countered that the Liberian brothers and sisters in his local need more than just kicking the can down the line with another one-year extension.

The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation (MLRF) is the West metro body of the AFL-CIO and among its many activities include endorsement of candidates and political roundtables. Local 2822 has five delegates to the MLRF.