Twin Cities Unions Respond to Police Violence

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, July 21, 2016

….Philando Castile, an African American man who was shot and killed by a police officer at a traffic stop July 6, was a member of Teamsters Local 320. The union issued a brief statement expressing grief over his death. It’s a public employees local, representing a handful of police officers—though not the one who killed him—as well as corrections officers, campus workers, city workers, bus drivers, and even public defenders, who often find themselves opposing police in court. The local hasn’t tried to engage members in protest, or even conversation, about racism or police violence. “Our union has traditionally not encouraged member dialogue on any issues—especially issues as complicated as the relationship between police officer union members and other union members,” said member Bob Kolstad….

….But other Twin Cities unions have been bolder. Hundreds of teachers, in town for their union convention, marched on July 19 to protest Castile’s killing; 21 were arrested. Last fall, members of AFSCME Local 3800 helped organize a rally, “Labor for Justice for Jamar,” after Minneapolis police shot and killed another African American man, Jamar Clark. Local 3800 represents clerical and technical workers at the University of Minnesota. President Cherrene Horazuk said many members there, too, had personal connections to Castile. Since his death the local has been encouraging members to attend protests and vigils—and to wear their union shirts, to show that this is a union issue. Horazuk said few members have opposed their local taking a stand. She believes one reason why is that, in its contract campaign, the union was already raising racial justice issues, such as the low wages of workers of color on campus, and Muslim workers’ fight to get religious holidays off. So, she said, “it doesn’t seem like it’s out of the blue.”…..