Longtime AFSCME leader Dennis Frazier died earlier this month, shortly after retirement. Frazier was a leader in both AFSCME and the Labor movement as a whole. He had delayed retirement from his decades of work in St. Louis County in child protection and family services, but then a diagnosis with ALS made the decision about leaving work for him.
“It is with a heavy heart that I announce my retirement from St. Louis County,” he said at the time in a statement. “It has been the honor of my life to serve as a child protection worker, working alongside incredible coworkers to ensure vulnerable children in our county have a strong advocate. I continue to wish nothing but the best for my AFSCME family and members of other labor unions who always do their jobs with excellence on behalf of the residents of northeastern Minnesota.”
As a union leader, he became and executive board member on AFSCME Council 5 Local 66 president in about 10 years ago. He also served for several years on the North East Area Labor Council.
He died March 5 at age 68.
His work in the Labor movement was expansive, and friends say he was always expanding the circle to get more people involved. “I met Dennis almost right away when I joined the union,” said Theresa O’Halloran-Johnson. “I consider myself an idealist and always wanting to change the world. Dennis said to me, well, the way to do that is collectively, within the union, and he was absolutely right.”
O’Halloran-Johnson said it’s hard to imagine AFSCME 66 without him leading it. “When I first started in St. Louis County, everybody knew him and liked him. He was always just very positive, even though he worked a very difficult job. He understood adversity comes to everyone.”
And the benefits of a union were one way to fight against that adversity, friends said. “Dennis was all about workers being able to form a Union and he made sure why it was important,” said Christina St. Germain, president of AFSCME 1092 and who served on Council 5 executive board with Frazier. And that applied to political work unions do as well.

“When AFSCME’s PEOPLE committee held screenings for candidates running for public office, Dennis would always ask the question, ‘Do you support card check neutrality for workers to form a union?’ Sometimes candidates weren’t sure what it meant,” St. Germain said. “Dennis would school them on card check neutrality. If their answer was no, after the screening during the group’s discussion, Dennis would reminder the group the candidate had failed to support the rights of workers to form a Union free from employer intimidation and were not worthy of our endorsement.”

St. Germain said that when she heard Dennis was sick, she called him and he told her not to be sad, that he had had a good life, family, friends — and a good job, wages, benefits and retirement, thanks to the union. “Every day Dennis was a union man, he was even talking to the workers at the care facility he was at to form a union,” she said.

“For myself, I would simply say that Dennis was one of the most genuine characters around,” said Alan Netland, president of the North East Area Labor Council and a longtime friend and colleague of Frazier’s. “No bullshit whatsoever. He understood the term solidarity better than almost anyone. A true hero and a great friend.”

Many said they would remember his words for a long time, and how he made people feel. “I was at an AFSCME convention in Duluth a few years back, Dennis said to me; come sit with us, you’re an honorary AFSCME 66 member,” St. Germain said. “Dennis always made you feel welcome. Dennis was a great man.”

“He didn’t talk about helping people,” O’Halloran-Johnson added. “Instead, it was about being in community. It wasn’t patronizing for him to be helpful — you never felt that way when Dennis was working with you. Not I’m better or stronger than you, but I’m here with you. It was instinctive. He was just that way.”

Survivors include his wife, Deb; children, Tammy (Nathan) Scheopner, Heidi (Josh) Rogers and foster daughter, Tammy Hauge; grandchildren, Clara Scheopner and Mark Schoepner; brothers, Douglas Frazier and Edwin Frazier; sisters: Lucinda Nordman, Lisa (Blake) Wendelberg and Rene (Kenny) Davis; brothers-in-law: Bill Santi, Patrick Santi, and Kevin Peterson; numerous nieces and nephews; and beloved dog, Winnie. He was preceded in death by his parents; brother, Audie Frazier; and brothers-in-law, Glen Santi and Alan Nordman. Memorials are preferred to AFSCME Council 5 or to the ALS Foundation.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) kicked off the Labor Federation’s “Labor 2022” political program by endorsing Governor Tim Walz, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Secretary of State Steve Simon, and State Auditor Julie Blaha for reelection.
“Working Minnesotans deserve support from their elected officials, and we believe in supporting those who support us,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bernie Burnham. “Whether it’s championing policies to improve the lives of working people or holding bad employers accountable, we can count on all five of Minnesota’s constitutional officers to have our backs.”
The Minnesota AFL-CIO’s “Labor 2022” campaign is grassroots-focused program to ensure the state’s union members have the information they need before casting their votes this fall. The program’s foundation is built upon member-to-member conversations at the worksite, in neighborhoods, and on the phone with significant mail and digital outreach.
“The pandemic reminded us how important it is to have the right people serving in public office,” Burnham added. “As we work to build a state where everyone, no matter what we look like or where we live, can prosper, we must have elected leaders who stand in solidarity with working people.”
The Minnesota AFL-CIO will be endorsing candidates for Congressional and State Legislative races later this spring.

Sen. Tom Bakk, the Democratic senator turned Independent from Cook, is retiring from state politics, nearly 30 years after he was first elected to the Legislature.
One of the staunchest supporters of the Iron Range, its mining and its idiosyncratic culture, Bakk, 67, developed a reputation for being a master of the inside game, always finding a way to put himself at the center of Minnesota state politics and government.
“Representing the people of the Arrowhead region has been one of the greatest rewards of my life, made possible by the support and patience of my family,” Bakk said in a statement. “My heartfelt thanks to my constituents for entrusting me to be their voice at the Capitol for so many years. I have always tried to do my best for the people I’ve served even if it was not always easy or popular with my own political party.”
When the Senate DFL failed to reclaim a majority in the November 2020 election, Bakk, a former DFL caucus leader, jumped ship and announced he was forming his own independent caucus with fellow Iron Ranger state Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who is also retiring after being diagnosed with ALS last summer.
The two Iron Range lawmakers’ abrupt move was billed as an effort to effectively advocate for their constituents. Bakk and Tomassoni were not padding then-GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka’s narrow 34-33 majority out of charity. In exchange for leaving the DFL caucus, they became committee chairs.
Bakk’s newly redrawn district is still expected to remain competitive. Former President Donald Trump won the district by two points in 2016, and was roughly tied with Biden in 2020. Gov. Tim Walz won the district by double digits in 2018.
Bakk is a relic of a previous legislative era: Unlike younger legislators, he is not much for the modern trappings of social media. His Twitter account, @tombakk, features zero tweets and no profile picture.
“There is still a lot more to be done but it is time for me to pass the torch,” Bakk said. “I’m certain there are new inspiring leaders waiting in the wings. For 28 years it has been my time to serve but now it is finally my time to retire.”
—Minnesota Reformer

Please contact Community Services Liaison Corey Cusick at ccusick@hlunitedway.org with any names for the Central Labor Body’s Workers Memorial Day ceremony. In the meantime, make plans to be at the pancake breakfast, free and open to the public, at the Labor Temple in Duluth on Monday, April 25. The breakfast will be served from 7-9 a.m. At 9:15 a.m., there will be a tree-planting ceremony behind the Labor Temple to remember fallen workers.