The Minnesota State Fair is the perfect place to show union pride and solidarity. “Airline Local” 1833 President Mary Sansom is going to make sure that the Machinists Union are front and center. Photo Credit: Minnesota State Fair Planning Committee

Summer of Solidarity at the Great Minnesota Get-Together

Service to the Community
2 September 2022

Going back as far as anyone can remember, Airline Local 1833 has held a prominent role at the Minnesota State Fair, which the locals call the “Great Get-Together.” The Get-Together, which began as a way for area farmers to close out the Mid Western summer growing season, attracts more attendees yearly than any other state fair in the US. 

Notable among the children sporting farmer-themed face paint, musical acts, and concession stands are an impressive cadre of labor unions. Led by the Minnesota AFL-CIO, working Mid Westerners represented at the Fair include Iron and Sheet Metal Workers, Educators, and Medical Workers, among others. And, right in the center of them all, in the very heart of the Fair itself, is Mary Sansom. Mary is the President of “Airline Local” 1833 in Minneapolis, representing Union Members at Southwest Airlines and United, both of which are home to increasingly tense labor negotiations. “Don’t forget Southwest!” Mary quickly reminded me when I called her this afternoon about her Local’s support of the Get-Together and her brief meeting with US Senator and former Presidential Candidate Amy Klobuchar. The Local is also home to area workers at American Airlines, which settled their contract just as COVID-19 was starting.

I found out that Klobuchar had stopped by the Machinists Union kiosk at the Get-Together when Brian Vega texted me a photo of Mary standing next to Klobuchar, holding a “CONTRACT NOW” flyer, which have become ubiquitous at United Airlines. Brian is the Social and Video Media Coordinator for Machinists Union District 141.

“When it comes to our union, Klobuchar just breezes through like that,” Mary said of the encounter. “She stands with us on most issues,” she said. “And, there are a few areas where she needs a little more encouragement from us,” she said laughingly. Told of the ongoing tensions surrounding contract negotiations, the Senator responded simply, “So I’ve heard.” “Klobuchar and the Machinists Union haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on every issue,” Mary said of the Senator. “But, if she’s here to support our Contract Negotiations at United and Southwest, she’s on the right track.”

In addition to Klobuchar, Minnesota Representatives Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, and members of Machinists Union District 77 also stopped by to show solidarity for airline workers engaged in contract negotiations.

“Southwest has been working under an amendable contract since 2018,” Mary explained. “And now if we add all our members at United, there’s a lot of airline workers getting fed up.”

Mary, who leads the yearly effort to bring the Machinists Union to the Fair, said that politics are far from the main reason for attending. “I’ve been here for 48 years,” she said. “And, this has been going on for at least that long,” continued, explaining that the long-standing tradition of Machinists Union support for the State Fair and surrounding region is an integral part of the culture of Local 1833. “The Nurses Union out here could be facing a strike,” she said. We want to stand in solidarity with them right now. We also want to show support for Starbucks workers who are organizing, and Trader Joe’s and Amazon,” she continued. “These are new unions,” she said, “and they could use a hand. We need to stand with our union brothers and sisters when it matters.”

No Amazon facility in Minneapolis has been successfully organized thus far. However, one of the Staten Island Sorting Facility’s lead organizers, the Nation’s first to form a union successfully, will be a featured guest at the upcoming Machinists District Convention in Orlando, Florida. Tristan Lion Dutchin, who helped lead the effort to unionize Amazon, has been a frequent attendee at organizing events at JetBlue’s JFK hub, alongside Machinists Union organizers. 

According to Mary, networking is a vital part of unionism, both with other unions and within the communities they call home. “We’re out here to make State Fair visitors aware of the work that Unions do and why we’re still relevant,” she said. “A lot of your neighbors might be union, and you’d never know it,” she said, explaining why community involvement is critical to unions. 

An easy walk from political headquarters, it is not uncommon for elected representatives to stop by the Machinists Union kiosk at the Minnesota State Fair. Above, United States Representative Angie Craig (in red), and below, US Representative Dean Phillips took a moment to show support for Machinist Union Members engaged in ongoing contract talks with United and Southwest.

“Plus,” she said, “this is great for our members!” Mary detailed the vital role retirees play in setting up the Machinists Union Kiosk and the crash course that new Union Stewards get when they’re thrown into the mix. “It’s a lot to have thrown at them, but they meet everyone and just learn so fast,” Mary explained of volunteers experiencing their first time at the Fair. Mary has had time to be well-versed on the topic of unionism in her decades within the airline industry. A former employee at Northwest, she famously quit the airline bcause she refused to work for a non-union carrier. Over the years, she has served as a trusted mentor for generations of new union members in Minneapolis. 

The next morning, Mary passed the Machinists Kiosk over to Local 1833 Trustee Jan Haber, Local 623 (St. Cloud, MN) union member Joe Baretta and District 77 Rep Andrew Peltier who were left with staffing duties and a request for pictures.

“I’m really excited about Joe and Andrew because this is the first time in a very long time that the other IAM members from the other industries in MN have staffed the kiosk,” she said.

Which is why Mary has decided to defiantly place the Machinists Union directly in the heart of the largest State Fair in the Nation. “We have prime real estate on the State Fairgrounds,” Mary said. “We’re in the middle of everything,” she said of the location of the Local 1833 Fair Kiosk. The DNC has an office right there, so anyone trying to get elected or re-elected needs to come right past us” she said, “and the AFL-CIO is just next door, and there’s a beer hall right across the road,” she said with a laugh. “Everyone wants to be here, but we won’t surrender our spot.”

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