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.