Breakfast with Rep. Dean Phillips

Last week members of over a dozen labor unions were joined for a breakfast roundtable by a very special guest: freshman Congressman Dean Phillips.

Congressman Phillips was elected to represent Minnesota’s Third Congressional District in 2018, becoming the first Democrat to represent the district in decades. He defeated five-term incumbent Erik Paulsen, who supported corporations over workers, cut taxes for the super-rich, and voted in virtual lock-step with extreme right-wing Republicans while he was in office.

 “We won the third congressional district, and I say ‘we’ intentionally,” said Rep. Phillips. “Everyone in this room had a role in flipping this seat.”

Though he acknowledged that his votes on specific bills or actions may not always be what labor leaders want, he declared, “We are on the same team.”

“I want you to know there are some absolutes for me. The right to organize, the right to collectively bargain, those are absolutes. I want to be on the right side of labor, and on the right side of history.”

Then Rep. Phillips shared an update from Washington, DC. He shared the story of his efforts to secure an extension to the temporary protected status for Liberians living in Minnesota. This extension of Deferred Enforced Departure, or DED, was needed after President Trump decided to end the program, forcing Liberian immigrants to leave the United States within a year. Rep. Phillips fought hard to extended DED protections until finally, the Trump administration extended it for another year.

Rep. Phillips said the extension was a victory, but a temporary one. “Next March we’re going to be in this position all over again,” he said. “We need comprehensive immigration reform.”

Rep. Phillips also described the most recent government shutdown and his efforts to pass the Shutdown to End All Shutdowns (SEAS) Act, which he authored with several other first-term Democratic House members. This bill would guarantee funding at current levels for all government agencies and services during a shutdown. It would also cancel Congressional salaries. “This law would insure that if we don’t get our work done, we don’t get paid,” said Rep. Phillips.

After Rep. Phillips’s update, labor leaders around the table shared updates from their unions. AFSCME leaders shared an update about the recent informational picket at the Anoka Regional Treatment Center (AMRTC), where Local 1307 joined with MNA and MAPE to demand workplace safety.

AFSCME Retiree West Metro President Michael Nelson spoke on behalf of the AMRTC workers, who had just come off the picket line a few days before. “It’s a recipe for continued assaults and injuries to the employees, and it does nothing for the security of the clients.”

AFSCME Executive Board Secretary Cherrene Horazuk asked Rep. Phillips to fight for the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (HR 1309). Rep. Dean Phillips is already a co-author of this bill, and he reaffirmed his commitment to fighting for its passage.

For many union members, it can be difficult to see the impact of the work we do to elect labor supporters and champions at all levels of government. Hearing Rep. Phillips confirm his support for the right to organize is an important reminder that our work to support pro-labor candidates is critical. Without the contributions of labor, a voice for working people in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District focused on transparency, health care and strong communities would not have been possible.