The AFL-CIO Minnesota General Council today elected Bernie Burnham as the next state federation of labor president. The former Duluth teacher, who currently serves as vice president of Education Minnesota, will succeed Bill McCarthy, who plans to retire on February 1 after more than six years in the top union office in the world. ‘State.
The AFL-CIO of Minnesota represents more than 300,000 union members statewide. The federation supports more than 1,000 affiliated unions in their efforts to empower workers through recruiting and organizing campaigns, as well as through the political process.
As a Pacific Islander, Burnham is the first person of color elected to an AFL-CIO Minnesota executive, and the second woman elected president. The vote was unanimous.
Burnham became active in the Duluth Federation of Teachers after taking a post as an elementary school teacher 22 years ago and quickly. She was a shop steward and member of the union teams on racial equity and a member of the district union-management committee.
“I was a woman of color who took an unconventional path in the teaching profession,” said Burnham. “I didn’t know if I would be accepted, but my new union family embraced me.”
DFT members elected Burnham vice-president in 2010 and president in 2013. She successfully ran for vice-president of Education Minnesota in 2018.
Campaigning for state president of the AFL-CIO, Burnham highlighted his experience working in coalition with other unions to spur political activism and elevate racial justice as an area of focus in the movement. union.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be elected to this post,” she said. “I pledge to continue the struggle of the workers’ movement for a State where everyone wins a fair return on their work, where each child can pursue their dreams and where each family that struggles today will get what it needs, things like accessible health care, modern roads and bridges, safe housing and world-class schools.
Burnham is co-chair of the Minnesota AFL-CIO Racial and Economic Justice Committee, which was instrumental in the work of the federation during McCarthy’s tenure.
In an interview last week, McCarthy called the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin a turning point. “We just couldn’t just sit back and do nothing,” McCarthy said.
Within a month, McCarthy had issued statements calling on the president of the Minneapolis Police Union to step down and affirming the AFL-CIO of Minnesota’s commitment to “dismantle systems of oppression” inside and out. outside the trade union movement.
“These are tough, tough issues, and we just have to keep going,” McCarthy said. “And I know we’ve failed along the way. We made mistakes. But we cannot be an effective labor movement in any way if we don’t work on issues of social and racial justice.
McCarthy’s accomplishments also include overseeing political agendas that have foiled a wave of attacks on trade union rights at the state level. As anti-union lawmakers pass the right to work and repeal current wages in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states, pro-union Minnesota lawmakers pass the nation’s toughest wage theft protection law .
Unions in Minnesota were also in a better position to advocate for emergency protections after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under McCarthy’s leadership, the AFL-CIO of Minnesota pushed Walz to issue an executive order protecting workers who speak out against unsafe conditions and fought on Capitol Hill for increased unemployment and worker compensation.
“Thank goodness for Governor Walz,” McCarthy said. “Here is a man who I think really understood what workers were going through, especially our frontline workers. We asked him to do certain things, to create decrees to support workers – and he agreed. “
McCarthy also highlighted the expanded work of the federation’s nonprofit, the Minnesota Training Partnership, as the focal point of his presidency. The organization has secured grants to support Minnesota unions and their apprenticeship programs, helping to prepare tradespeople, window cleaners, manufacturing workers and others for support jobs in the family.
“The more we support our affiliates, the more they will be able to develop their unions,” said McCarthy.
A long-time member of UNITE HERE Local 17, the union for hotel workers, McCarthy first ran for union election 36 years ago, while running the bar at Cleo’s Lounge at 50th floor of the IDS tower in Minneapolis.
From there, McCarthy’s rise through the labor ranks began. After accepting a trade officer position, McCarthy successfully ran for president of Local 17, a title he held for 15 years before being elected president of the Minneapolis Central Labor Council ( now known as the Minneapolis Regional Federation of Labor) in 2002. He sat as state president in 2015.
“I feel like I left the organization in good stead,” he said. “We have a strong team, one of the best teams I’ve worked with. Anyone who steps into the leadership position will have the opportunity to improve it. “
General Council members voted to nominate McCarthy president emeritus for his career serving the Minnesota labor movement.