Joe Biden, former vice president and current Democratic candidate for president, made a fast, busy stop in Duluth last week, anchored by a trip to the Carpenters Training Institute and highlighted by quick stops in Canal Park and at the Duluth firehall.
Biden toured the institute and then made remarks to the crowd, kept small because of coronavirus concerns. Outside, separate groups of people waved signs for Trump or Biden.
Biden and Trump were in northern Minnesota on the same day, highlighting the role the state will play in the election — or so many in the national media seem to think. According to several big-name polls, Biden is up around 9 percent in Minnesota.
During his remarks at the Carpenters building, Biden drew comparisons as he saw them between Duluth and Scranton — towns full of hardworking people who want to help fulfill the promise of America.
“My entire campaign is built on a simple concept: Reward hard work, not wealth,” Biden said. He hastened to add that wealth will not be “penalized,” but he made it clear that households that make more than $400,000 total would see their taxes go up in an effort to get the top percentage of income earners to pay their fair share.
Biden also said essential workers should be paid in a way that acknowledges they’re essential, that the minimum wage should be $15 an hour, and childcare must be more affordable and widely available.
Much of the speech touched on familiar themes, although he did reference the visit. He described how during the tour of the Training Institute, he had been shown plans and blueprints that incorporate environmentally friendly building technologies. “My Buy American/Build American plan calls for retrofitting 4 million buildings in America, creating 4 million jobs for skilled labor, all done with prevailing wage and Union labor. That’s not hyperbole; that’s a fact.”
In delivering what would have been a huge applause line in a pandemic-free campaign in front of a large

crowd, Biden said, “When the government spends taxpayer money, we should spend it to buy American products made by American workers using American supply chains to generate American growth and opportunity.”
This included touting jobs that would be created by updating infrastructure (such as investing $2 trillion in roads and bridges), installing broadband networks to serve every home, and updating buildings to take advantage of new energy efficiencies.
Biden also offered a four-point plan for fighting for workers and Unions: Protecting prevailing wage, prioritizing Project Labor Agreements, protecting apprenticeship standards, and passing the PRO Act. The PRO Act would rework some decades-old labor laws to give workers much more power on the job and boost penalties for employers who try to disrupt collective bargaining efforts.
District 8 Congressman Pete Stauber, a Republican, voted against the PRO Act when it came up earlier this year in the U.S. House.
Several Union leaders met with Biden during the visit. Beth McCuskey, president of the Duluth Central Labor Body, said Biden’s speech “hit the mark” and it was a pleasure to see the former vice president in person. As an aside, she said it was also great to have some time to talk to U.S. Sen. Tina Smith: “She looks you in the eye, and it’s really quality time with her,” she said.
Dan Olson, business manager and FST at Laborers Local 1091, and Joel Smith, district council president, met with Biden at the airport just before the candidate left town. “It was a surprise to me — I thought we were going to a sit-down town-hall type meeting, but each of us were shuttled into a room with him and got to talk with him one-on-one for a few minutes.”
Olson said he brought up the Line 3 and mining issues, both of which are deeply important to his membership. “He knew what he was talking about,” Olson said.
The Laborers had a strong relationship with the Obama administration. Olson said Biden told him the Laborers were one of the only groups that follows up on what they say they’ll do when it comes to working with an administration, and that the visit was comfortable and relaxed. “I had a blast,” Olson said. “It was more like a conversation, just like I was talking to another guy. I was glad to be a part of it.”
Matt Preble, organizer for IBEW Local 242, said he was struck by Biden’s warmth when he had a chance to talk to him. “His mannerisms make you feel like what you’re saying is the most important thing that’s going on right now. It’s powerful.
“He brought up that the IBEW has had his back for a long time,” Preble said; the IBEW endorsed Biden back in February. “Having that opportunity to meet him is such an honor.”
Janet Nelson, AFSCME retiree, said it was exciting to see Biden in Canal Park. She had a chance to talk with him briefly and introduced herself.
“I said, ‘hi, I was one of your national delegates,’ and he said ‘Janet Nelson, thank you,’” Nelson said. She had seen him at political events in the past but hadn’t had a chance to meet him.
“There was great energy in the crowd — there were a couple of hecklers, so we drowned them out,” she said. “Everyone was excited for a chance to see him or even get a picture of him walking by.”
Nelson has been working to access Biden yard signs for those in the area and said that whenever she gets a shipment, “they go like hotcakes.” If you are interested in a yard sign, email her at

Legislative pressure is key in keeping two Department of Correction facilities open in the face of budget shortfalls and a possible department restructure, says AFSCME officials.
AFSCME 5 said the DOC made an $18 million budget request to address a structural shortfall in the DOC funding, and while the state House passed legislation that included the funding, the Senate did not. Since then, “a deficit has accumulated at an unsustainable rate,” AFSCME said.
The two facilities under the gun are in Togo and Willow River and more than 150 union members would lose their jobs if they were closed. These facilities run boot-camp type programs, called the Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP), for low-level offenders.
“Moose Lake is the home facility — everyone comes to Moose Lake first, and then are divided between Willow River and Togo,” says Tom Danger of AFSCME Local 3887 and who also serves as vice president of the AFSCME Corrections Policy Committee.
Those who need more chemical dependency treatment generally go to Willow River first, he said.
The highly regimented programs include lots of marching and physical training and everything is completed in teams and on a schedule, Danger said. There are also chemical dependency programs, GED programs and other education opportunity.
The programs are widely considered successful, as those who have come out of it tend to have a lower recidivism rate and also have the possibility of dropping time off their sentences, Danger said.
The union has held rallies at both facilities and has provided yard signs to raise awareness in the communities of the threats to the facilities. The union has also held phone banks for members to call legislators.
“We’re hoping other union members can call their own legislators and ask them to vote to pass a supplemental budget of $18 million,” he said.
If there is any restructuring to the facilities or the DOC as a whole, AFSCME wants to ensure members have a voice in what results.
AFSCME Council 5 has also circulated a petition asking legislators and the Governor to fully fund programs to avoid facility closures and suspend the proposed closures until legislative deliberations occur.

Veterans and families of veterans, including several members of the Labor community, spoke out against Trump’s recently reported comments of war dead as “suckers” and “losers.” They did so a week after Vice President Pence visited Duluth, and a day after the president’s son, Don Jr., visited Duluth.

“I have two Marine friends who didn’t come back” from wartime service, said Glenn Jackson, retired Steelworker and veteran of the U.S. Navy, Ready Reserve and Air National Guard. “Could they have been president? Maybe. But they never got the chance.

Former state Senator Becky Lourey spoke as well, remembering her son Matthew, who was killed in a mission during his second tour of duty in Iraq. Lourey, visibly moved, spoke passionately about the concepts of duty and service.

“I am a Gold Star Mother whose heart is still broken,” she said. “And it was broken again by a commander in chief who should be thanking those who serve.”

The idea of an individual dedicating themselves to something greater is unknown to Trump, Lourey said.

Fletcher Hinds, a Marine who served in Vietnam for 13 months starting in 1969, said Trump’s comments “are personal to me.”

“When the commander in chief denigrates people he’s supposed to be leading, he’s not suitable to lead,” he said. “He’s the wrong person to be in the White House.”

The Duluth Central Labor Body helped organize the event at the Civic Center in Duluth on Thursday.

This year has been hard for all of us in some way or another. But for families already facing difficulties, the challenges of the pandemic, high unemployment rates and uncertainty around education are hitting especially hard. Renee Van Nett, Community Services Liaison, is on the case, preparing now to help make the holidays a little brighter for local families.
At this point, Community Services is planning on doing food baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and there will be a Kids Party behind the Labor Temple (with heat lamps!).
Local unions can get names and contact information of families who need support over the holidays to Renee by Nov. 2. The Thanksgiving pick-up date will be Nov. 19 at the Labor Temple, and the Kids Party will be Dec. 20 behind the Labor Temple.
Renee says she’s looking for new toys, gift cards and financial support for the events. Contact her for information on when and where to drop off donations. Help build good holiday memories for local families, and thanks for your support!