After 40 years, Mike Sundin says it’s time to be done. The longtime business market development consultant for Painters Local 106 is retiring.
“I just hope my work sets an example as well and is counted among those who did good things.”
Sundin spent a couple of decades as a drywall finisher, moving into commercial painting. About 10 years ago, he moved into representation and organizing for the district council, which he describes as rewarding. He also served on the Cloquet School Board for five years.
He’ll still be involved in the DFL and in political work as State Representative for District 11A; he’s also chair of the Labor Committee.
Sundin said his activism started in high school. “I was a delegate to the county convention and supported Scoop Jackson,” he said. Warren Karlstad, a high school civics teacher, was a friend of his father, and he learned a lot from him, Sundin said.
“It was from him that I first heard about the open shop/closed shop system,” he said. “And of course, anyone with a social conscience can make that decision.”
Sundin doesn’t shy away from talk of a social conscience. At Central Labor Body meetings, where he is a delegate, his voice often rises above others during the opening Pledge of Allegiance, “with peace and JUSTICE for all.”
Both of his parents were community activists, and he said his mother dragged him to precinct caucuses, telling him on the way, “Oh, by the way, you’re a Democrat.” “My father was not much for political labels but never shirked his responsibility in the community,” he said.
His father-in-law at the time asked him to join the family business and that’s how he became a painter and got a kick-start into trade unionism. He also spent some time Itasca Community College as well as continuing education at Lake Superior College and UMD. He also taught a labor history component to apprentices in Duluth.
Sundin says the BE&K clash in 1989 was a wakeup call for the movement. Rank-and-file members of the Building Trades clashed with the antiunion contractor BE&K in International Falls, which had been brought in to do some work at Boise Cascade. And while he acknowledges rough-and-tumble tactics have given way to tech-based organizing opportunities, Labor must remain vigilant.
When he looks back on his career, Sundin said it’s all about the people. “Mike Kuitu is a huge influence and I admire leaders such as George Sundstrom, among others. Dave Dinehart has the most recent and biggest impact politically, he’s a very honorable man.” He also credited the Building Trades and former Labor World editor Larry Sillanpa, his “trusted scribe,” as big supporters in his political efforts. “If anyone has complaints about my in public service, take it up with them.”
Sundin said he’s looking forward to fishing and spending more time with his family, but acknowledged there’s still plenty to do in the political realm. “Maybe I’m just getting started,” he said.