The Most Important Labor Story Right Now Is in Minnesota

Sarah Jaffe

Andrea Villanueva was in bargaining five days ago, negotiating a new contract for herself and 500 other retail janitors who clean some of the Twin Cities’ most recognizable stores. A group of building security workers, also members of Villanueva’s union SEIU Local 26, were also in negotiations in the same building. The workers bumped into one another in the hallways as the day went on — stopping to cheer each other on and express their solidarity.

Local 26 is just one of a major network of unions and community groups in Minneapolis and St. Paul that lined up bargaining processes for new contracts — and in some cases, strike votes — around a March 2 deadline, deliberately set in order to maximize their leverage and win collectively-determined community demands around four key issues: dignified work, stable housing, a livable planet and good schools.

That deadline is today, and a rolling Week of Action that will likely include thousands of workers on strike, street protests, and art and theater events, is set to begin. 

In this collective effort, Local 26’s 8,000 members are joined by thousands of others: teachers and school support workers, care workers from 12 nursing homes, parks and public service employees, transit drivers, construction workers, restaurant staff, and community groups organizing around housing and climate justice. Before March 2, 15,000 workers had taken strike votes and though some of them have settled, some 10,000 may still walk off the job this week.

They’re members of groups including SEIU Local 26, St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE), SEIU Healthcare Minnesota & Iowa, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1005, CTUL, Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia, Minnesota Federation of Teachers (MFT) Local 59, LIUNA Local 363, Minnesota AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE Local 17, AFSCME Local 3800, CWA Local 7250, Unidos MN, ISAIAH, and many more.

Coming together around the question ​“What could we win together?” this broad cross section of Minnesota’s working class decided to go on the offensive, developing a set of guiding principles over months, made possible in turn by years of relationship building through street uprisings and overlapping crises.

Shortly after we spoke that day, Villanueva and her colleagues felt that collective power manifest: reaching a tentative agreement with their employers after months of bargaining. The strike they’d authorized to begin March 4 would not be necessary: they won a 17% increase in base pay, an improved healthcare plan, more paid time off, and their first-ever paid holidays on Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

The next day, the building security workers who were negotiating nearby on the same property, also reached an agreement, one that included pay raises of up to 27%, employer-paid 401Ks, and a Juneteenth paid holiday. 

What is happening in the Twin Cities could be a powerful model for the working class everywhere: a movement ecosystem whose members show up in deep solidarity across differences, that thinks strategically and builds for the long term while maximizing its current power. That understands workers are also renters, neighbors, people who want a livable city and climate — and that they can exponentially amplify their power by acting together. 

“We have learned over and over again,” Local 26 President Greg Nammacher explained, ​“when we try and push for justice in each of our own separate lanes, we are not as successful as if we push for justice together across our different organizations.” 

“In a way it’s fun, to be all together,” Villanueva told me. 

This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on March 2, 2024.

About the Author: Sarah Jaffe is a Type Media Center Fellow, co-host (with Michelle Chen) of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast, and a columnist at The Progressive. She was formerly a staff writer at In These Times and the labor editor at AlterNet.

Learn about labor unions’ rights at Workplace Fairness.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa se yon 3L nan Syracuse University College of Law. Li gradye nan Eta Penn ak yon diplòm nan jounalis. Avèk rechèch legal li ak ekri pou San Patipri Travay, li fè efò yo ekipe moun ki gen enfòmasyon yo bezwen yo dwe pwòp defansè yo pi byen.