Local unions ready to reignite Target organizing efforts

  • Article by: MARISSA EVANS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2011 - 5:26 PM

Local union leaders leaflet passersby in front of Target headquarters Friday afternoon.

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Mike Dreyer and Jeanine Owusu of UFCW distributed leaflets in front of the Target store on Nicollet Mall Friday.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Local union leaders vowed Friday that regardless of whether 265 Target store workers in suburban New York City vote to unionize, they're planning to reignite organizing efforts in the Twin Cities.

"This could be their day of reckoning," said Bernie Hesse, political director of Local 789 of the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union in Minneapolis. "This is the start of something. This is not something we're going to fold up and put away regardless of the outcome. Target's got to be freaking out, just by having an election that's a start."

Nearly 40 local area union leaders tried to rally support in front of Target Corp.'s Minneapolis headquarters for the Valley Stream, N.Y vote, which takes place after the store closes Friday evening. It is the first union vote Target has faced in more than two decades, and if successful, the New York store would be Target's first union store.

UFCW Local 1189 and UFCW 789 members along with the Communication Workers of America members dotted Nicollet Mall over the lunch hour Friday handing out fliers and talking to passerbys about company worker practices.

Don Seaquist, president of UFCW 1189 said that the local goal at the demonstration today was to educate the general public and create awareness of Target's policies. They handed out flyers under the headline, "Target: Expects more, pays less."

The vote "shows a growing frustration with the tradition of low wages and low benefits," Seaquist said. "These are folks trying to be breadwinners, who have lost jobs in manufacturing and are now working retail."

In 2004 and 2005 there were attempts to unionize Target stores locally but to no avail. Hesse cites a lack of momentum and energy among workers as a primary reason, in addition to Target's "effective union avoidance program." He claims the company also uses scare tactics against organizers, such as cutting their hours and "making life hell for anyone involved in unions."

Holding a sign high above her head that said "Let's Change" 37-year-old Wednesday Green, a Minnesota native and a language arts teacher in Iowa, was not "for or against unions."

"People want resources to support themselves and their communities," Green said. "There's a lot of people not on Nicollet that are beginning to lose hope in the future. It's not about politics, it's about being human beings."

Tim Tharp is in Minneapolis from New York City for a conference this week, and the member of the Newspaper Guild union said he showed up at the rally because he wanted to help.

"I hope if they can win, workers at other Targets will be inspired," Tharp said. "More people do better when they work together rather than on their own."

Regardless of the election outcome in New York, the local unions plan to continue talking with local Target workers to give them information and being a presence to them. The group is also hoping after the elections to make contacts with New York, Chicago and San Francisco UFCW members to set up a national council to coordinate activities.

"It's going to take engagement, courage and a willingness to challenge employers in this kind of economic climate," Seaquist said.

Marissa Evans • 612-673-4211

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