Duluth AFL-CIO Defies National Order by Supporting Striking Northwest Mechanics

They're also working on issues with unions that left the umbrella labor organization in July.

"They're union members, and we're trying to help them whether they're with the AFL-CIO or not," said Craig Olson, president of the Duluth Building & Construction Trades Council.

Many locals in the region are providing food, money and other support despite a directive from the national AFL-CIO not to support the strike.

On the picket line at Duluth International Airport, striking mechanics say they've received support from throughout the community.

"If things get really tough, I'm coming down to picket every day, the food is so good," joked mechanic Kurt Shaw.

"When it turns out to be a union in your community... you do not turn their back on them," said Larry Sillanpa, longtime member of the Central Labor Body's board and editor of its Labor World newspaper.

Communications Workers of America Local 7214 in Duluth, for example, has asked U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar to support AMFA. CWA recently came close to striking, but at the last minute agreed to a tentative contract with Qwest.

That recent experience resonated with CWA members. "It could very well have been us" who went on strike, said Terri Newman, Local 7214 president.

The Duluth area has energetic, creative leaders who have contributed to the region having one of the highest percentages of union membership in the nation, Hudelson said.

And today's picnic could not happen without the participation of the Teamster's, UFCW and other unions, whether they're affiliated with the AFL-CIO or not, Peterson said.

Ego, rather than principle, caused the split at the national level, he said.

"It's just a great irony that this is happening on Labor Day," Peterson said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press

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