This article first appeared in Minneapolis Labor Review.
When two union members won city council races in the Minneapolis suburbs this year, they showed the potential of the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s new Union Member Candidate Pilot Program.
This new initiative is modeled after a successful program in New Jersey, which has helped more than 1,000 union members win elected office over the past 20 years.
David Cummings, candidate for Crystal City Council Ward 4, and Sheila Webb, candidate for Robbinsdale City Council Ward 2, became the Minnesota AFL-CIO program’s first candidates. Both are members of Education Minnesota — and both won their races.
Candidates Cummings and Webb took part in trainings earlier this year to strengthen their candidate skills.
And, as part of the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s independent political program, union members contacted union voters in Crystal and Robbinsdale to get out the vote on behalf of these candidates.
Cummings is a special education teacher for the Osseo Area Schools and a member of Education Minnesota Osseo. He’s also a fourth-generation union member.
Cummings explained why he’s running for elected office. “I’ve always been interested in politics… The last several years have taught me that just learning about it isn’t enough… It’s important for people to run for office, volunteer with campaigns… put that energy forward.”
Cummings ran two years ago for the Crystal City Council’s Section II seat, which covers a larger area. He lost by 10 percentage points.
This year, Cummings won the Ward 4 seat by a vote of 1,385 to 928 — a 20 percent margin.
Webb is a social worker for the Minneapolis Public Schools and is a member of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59. She’s been a member of the Robbinsdale Human Rights Commission for six years and became its chair earlier this year.
In her campaign for the Ward 2 seat on the Robbinsdale City Council, Webb emphasized diversity, equity and inclusion. “This is not new for me,” she says. “I’ve been pushing this and advocating for this my whole career.”
Webb came in second in the nonpartisan primary but went on to win the general election by a vote of 1,131 to 991.
Looking to the future
The wins by union members Cummings and Webb are just the beginning.
“We’re starting off small, but our hope over the long-term is to build a bench of public officials who come directly from the labor movement,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO president Bill McCarthy. “We know that when union members hold public office, they champion our values and work hard to shift the balance of power for working people.”
Going forward, the Minnesota AFL-CIO aims to learn from this year’s pilot program and plans to recruit a larger cohort of union member candidates for the 2021 municipal elections.
For more information on the program, visit www.unioncandidates.org.