Public employees support Building Trades to defend good jobs in Duluth

DULUTH - More than 600 members of AFSCME Council 5, gathered in Duluth for the public employee union's annual convention, led other unions in a boisterous rally outside the Radisson hotel Friday, protesting the new owner’s use of nonunion painters from Texas for renovation work.

Duluth Building Trades unions have been bannering the hotel for six weeks, but Friday’s rally – complete with an inflatable rat – was the biggest demonstration yet. “We’re not going to let these guys destroy our standard of living,” said Craig Olson, president of the local Building Trades council. Many local painters are out of work while the contractor has brought in out-of-state people to fill the jobs.

Dennis Frazier, president of AFSCME Local 66 in Duluth, said unions need to continue fighting for all workers against a mentality that puts profits before people. “All we ask for as workers are good jobs with good wages,” Frazier said.

During Council 5’s convention earlier in the week, another painters union official, Mike Sundin, told delegates that within an hour of the banner going up, Building Trades members working on the new Maurice’s headquarters across the street from the Radisson pulled out of the hotel and haven’t been back. That solidarity will cost the hotel’s new owner, Carl Kaeding, half a million dollars this year, Sundin said.

The dispute is complicated by the fact that the Radisson is one of only two hotels in Duluth whose restaurant and housekeeping staffs are union. But Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, said demonstrations like Friday’s – even if they drive business from the hotel – actually strengthen the hand of hotel staff long-term.

“We are protecting the rights of workers to have fair wages, benefits, and working conditions,” he told delegates. “We can show that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. You can’t do this in Duluth. You can’t do this anywhere.

“If the new owner is using nonunion labor to fix the hotel, it’s only a matter of time before he uses nonunion labor in the hotel.”

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