Court must stand behind organized labor

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By: Lori Smith

St. Cloud Times

Those who failed to implement “right-to-work” laws in Minnesota now go for similar goals for public-sector workers at the federal level.

SNOSHUU / FLICKR

SNOSHUU / FLICKR

Like many Minnesotans, I am a strong believer that people who work hard and follow the rules should have a fair chance to get ahead. It shouldn’t matter what part of the state you are born in, or who you know, to determine whether you are able to provide a healthy and happy life for your family. It is this core value that helps shape why hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans like myself are proud members of unions, where we come together to improve our lives and strengthen our communities.

This case, bankrolled by a national group of powerful, wealthy extremists called the Center for Individual Rights, is looking to stop working people from coming together to improve our lives and strengthen our communities. A win would overturn decades of labor laws and help to further consolidate power into the hands of rich and powerful who already control and set the rules that have caused wages and benefits to decline over the last three decades.

I am part of a statewide union of school workers, SEIU Local 284, and together we’ve fought so people working in our schools are able to support a family. When that happens, it benefits the students and our community by ensuring that we don’t shuffle through new staff every year. Staff can grow their skills, develop relationships with students and find ways to ensure we have the best schools possible. In my years as a food service worker in the St. Cloud schools, I’ve seen firsthand the power of people coming together to improve the lives of workers, students and our community right here in Central Minnesota.

Over the last few years, myself and other food service workers in the St. Cloud area have raised our voices, together, to fight so no student is hungry at school by advocating for funding for school breakfasts. It can be hard, or scary, to advocate for policies that would impact your workplace, but when people stick together and fight for what is right, anything is possible.

We know that as individuals our voices can get lost in the shuffle, but standing together we have power to actually make real change. Going to the state Capitol and fighting so that no student starts their day hungry has been a powerful experience, and one I have confidently fought because I know I am not alone in the fight.

But this all could change. Friedrichs is yet another attempt to roll back the voice of working people. Why is this happening at a time when people are having to work two or three jobs and CEOs are making 300 times what their average worker makes?

You don’t need me to tell you that it is getting harder to get by, let alone get ahead. People across Minnesota are working more than before. Everyone who works should be able to make ends meet, have a say about their future, and have the right to negotiate together for better wages and benefits that can sustain their family.

I know from experience that when regular people stand together in a union, we can improve lives. It is wrong that this extremist group is fighting to stop people from standing together to lift up our families and our communities. This court case is wrong for families, wrong for Minnesota and wrong for our country.

This is the opinion of Lori Smith, a head cook in St. Cloud school district and a member of SEIU Local 284.