Workers have plenty to grill about, crack a cold one over, or hit a parade or picnic to celebrate this Labor Day — and plenty of reason for optimism, too.
Just last month, after three months of negotiating, nurses at Essentia Health in Duluth reached a new three-year contract that includes 8.25% in total wage increases, comparable to what nurses in the Twin Cities are making. Favorable language and provisions in the deal include an active role in Essentia’s coming $800 million Vision Northland medical-campus overhaul. Nurses are scheduled to vote on the tentative contract next week, on Sept. 10. Nurses at St. Luke’s, meanwhile, are negotiating a similarly beneficial new agreement.
Construction workers and contractors in Duluth can be as excited as anyone over Vision Northland. That’s because it is just part of about $1 billion in private investment and construction work at both Essentia and St. Luke’s in the coming couple of years. Already it’s spawning even more work, including a soon-to-be-built, 15-story, $70.4 million residential high-rise on Superior Street on the medical district’s edge.
Contractors and workers who fix streets in Duluth can expect to get busier, too. A new half-percent citywide sales tax is to raise about $7 million annually for roadwork. That’s in addition to the $3 million the city already has been spending every year for everything from filling potholes to street overlays to infrastructure replacement.
St. Louis County similarly has a half-percent transportation sales tax, and since 2015 it has resulted in more than $10 million a year of job-creating work to repair and rebuild highways, roadways, and bridges.
Also in St. Louis County, on Election Day last month, organized labor showed its continued strength in our region with the election to the County Board of Keith Musolf, a union organizer with Iron Workers Local 512. With the backing of organized labor, Musolf knocked off the better-known longtime and popular mayor of Hermantown Wayne Boucher. The president of Duluth Building Trades called Musolf’s victory "a special day for us in labor ... and for one of our brothers in trades,” the News Tribune reported.
Further north in Minnesota, Twin Metals announced just ahead of today’s holiday that it will use only union labor to build its copper-nickel mine, dry-stack tailings storage, and other facilities. That translates into a whole lot of good-paying union construction jobs: An estimated 2 million to 2.5 million in construction hours are expected.
Which is in addition to the PolyMet mining project’s promise of a new life for and the environmental cleanup of an abandoned industrial site, 300 construction jobs, 860 full-time and spinoff jobs after construction, and a $500 million estimated annual economic impact on our region.
The Twin Metals announcement also is in addition to the 4,200 construction jobs, $1.5 billion of direct private investment, $500 million of additional economic activity for the state, and 1,600 manufacturing and construction supply jobs to replace Enbridge’s aging Line 3 oil pipeline. That good-for-labor project additionally will result in an environmentally safer and more-modern pipe across northern Minnesota.
Yep, these are heady times for workers in Duluth, in the Northland, and across Minnesota.
Need more to celebrate today? How about that nationally unemployment is at a five-decade low?
“Our biggest economic problem is that we have 1.6 million more job openings than we have unemployed workers to fill them,” the Washington Post’s Marc A. Thiessen wrote in a column published Sunday in the News Tribune. “A decade after the Great Recession, wages are finally rising, with those at the bottom of the economic ladder benefiting the most.”
So hit a parade. Or a picnic. Grill up some brats. Crack a cold one. Workers certainly deserve the break this Labor Day.