The seven-county labor federation based in Minneapolis has taken a sharp turn toward youth in filling its top leadership post.
Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, 30, was elected president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation last week, without opposition, by representatives of its 170 affiliates. She follows William McCarthy, who assumed the presidency of the Minnesota AFL-CIO in October.
Glaubitz Gabiou is the first woman to lead the federation in its 112-year history. But her election, which had McCarthy’s encouragement, is considered more notable for her age among those familiar with the federation. She’s more than 30 years younger than McCarthy.
“It definitely breaks the pattern — and purposefully,” said Louise Sundin, the federation’s executive vice president.
The position traditionally has been held by veteran labor leaders near the end of their careers. McCarthy transformed the role of the federation in his nearly 14 years there, shifting it from a body focused on supporting labor candidates to one more engaged year-round with community groups such as the recent Minneapolis Works workplace conditions campaign.
Glaubitz Gabiou was hired by the federation in 2012, first as its political director and then as a supervisor for political and community organizing efforts. She said she’s benefited from the mentoring of veteran labor leaders. She’s also been picked to participate in a national network to develop emerging labor leaders.
She attributed her election to the changing nature of labor union work that’s shifting toward more strategic campaigns adapted to work and labor markets.
“It’s people like me who need to be joining the union,” she said.
One challenge, she said, will be expanding union membership in workplaces where a growing share of workers are independent contractors.
Under McCarthy’s tenure, the Minneapolis federation grew from 60,000 members in affiliated unions in 2002 to 75,000. Its territory includes Hennepin, Anoka, Scott, Carver, Meeker, Wright and McLeod counties.
McCarthy became Minnesota AFL-CIO president after Shar Knutson, the first woman to hold that position when she was elected in 2009.
Glaubitz Gabiou grew up the daughter of a factory worker and secretary in a nonunion household in Eagle Lake, a suburb of Mankato.
Her first exposure to unions came when she transferred colleges, going from a nonunion job as a grocery clerk for Cub Foods in Mankato to one at Cub’s Midway store in St. Paul, which was represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers. She noticed that a greater share of the Midway store’s workers were able to make a career with its higher wages and benefits.
The political science student got involved in campaigns for DFLers Al Franken, Gary Schiff and Paul Thissen before becoming a field organizer for the Rochester-based Southeast Area Labor Council.
Glaubitz Gabiou and her husband, Michael, live in the Hamline-Midway area of St. Paul with their 1-year-old son.