Turning an Issue into a Campaign: How Minnesota Public Employees Stood Up for Paid Parental Leave

Source: Joan Treichel, Steph Meyer, and Johanna Schussler, Labor Notes, January 3, 2017

Many unions agonize over how to get young workers involved. At the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE), we did it with a fight over an issue that mattered to younger members—paid parental leave…. It started with just a few of us who got angry about the problem, and grew into a two-year campaign that energized our union by attracting new members, boosting meeting participation, and developing new leaders. And when we won the right to six weeks of paid parental leave for both parents for the birth or adoption of a child, a new generation felt the power of the union. Our victory benefits not only MAPE’s 14,000 members but all 32,000 union-represented executive-branch employees, including members of AFSCME, Nurses United, and the teachers unions…..

What Made Paid Parental Leave a Good Organizing Issue?
Organizers are always on the lookout for problems that can be solved through collective activity. Use these four criteria to evaluate a possible organizing issue:
– Is it widely felt? Many people must feel that this is a real problem and agree with the solution you’re pursuing. It became clear that paid parental leave was a hot issue among MAPE members when an initial meeting attracted 75 people.
– Is it deeply felt? It’s not enough that many people agree if none feels strongly enough to do anything about it. Paid parental leave hit home, touching on the value of family. Enough members were ready to back up their feelings with action to form a Solidarity Team.
– Is it winnable? It’s hard to know for sure whether you will win, but it’s possible to get a good idea of whether you can. Identify the decision-maker who can give you what you want. How hard do you expect this person to resist, and how much pressure can your group muster? MAPE had evidence that workers elsewhere had won similar benefits—and a decision-maker, the governor, who seemed moveable.
– Does it build the union and build leaders? MAPE had a goal to involve more of its newer members—and this issue mattered especially to them. Through this campaign, many newer members participated in union activities for the first time or took on new roles of leadership. ….