9/12/07

Comic Senate candidate: A reliable labor vote

Al Franken visited campus Monday to support the University workers on strike. The democratic candidate for Minnesota's 2008 Senate spoke in front of Walter Library at 12:30 p.m. before joining multiple picket lines throughout campus.

Franken said supporting labor unions and workers is one of his top billings as he gears up for the U.S. Senate race. Franken said he is currently a member of four unions - the Writers' Guild of America, the Directors' Guild of America, the Screen Actors' Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors.

Union members were pleased with Franken's support, Barbara Bezat, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 3937, said. "We are delighted that Al Franken supports AFSCME employees," she said. "We have an enormous amount of community support."

Franken said he didn't understand why the administration wasn't granting the workers high wages when the legislature has already set aside finances specifically for that reason.

He went on to say he could understand the denial of increased wages if workers were already earning too much, but he feels that isn't the case.

"Clearly the legislature voted the money, and this seems very pennywise and foolish of the University," he said.

Franken said he feels that a high turnover rate can be damaging to a University and the motivation for workers to stay in one place for many years is due to appropriate wages and treatment.

Students came to hear Franken and get a chance to shake his hand.

"Al Franken's a really cool guy and has a lot to say," said junior William Leitzman. "It's great for the union because he's so popular and he brings publicity."

Leitzman said Franken will gain political support for joining the workers on strike, but said he feels that wasn't Franken's ultimate reason for visiting the picket lines.

Although Franken received a strong showing of support from the approximately 100 attendees, he isn't without his detractors.

Franken is "not the only candidate using the strike to shop for votes," said University spokesman Dan Wolter. "(It) is part of the political process."

Wolter also expressed the administration's hope that Franken will continue to address higher education in the future.

Franken said higher education has been a concern of his before the strike, and it would continue to be after the dispute is resolved.

He expressed a concern that the University is moving backward.

"We now have a country in which the gap between those at the top and those toward the bottom is getting wider and wider," Franken said. "The University is not the place to be going in the wrong direction."

Franken said it's important for University students to learn from this strike.

"Students here need to know, they need to be reminded what unions and what labor is about," Franken said. "The unions gave this country a middle class. The unions gave this country the weekend.

"Imagine that, a learning moment at a University," he said.

(mndaily.com)

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