First Congressional District candidate Dan Feehan was in Owatonna Wednesday, Jan. 6 to meet with members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers after receiving the endorsement of the southern Minnesota union, Local 343, in early November.
Roughly 20 members gathered to talk with the Democratic hopeful, who is looking to unseat Republican Jim Hagedorn in a rematch this fall. Feehan lost to the latter in 2018 by less than half a percentage point. The 1st Congressional District includes Le Sueur and Nicollet counties.
Topics discussed Jan. 6 ranged from immigration and agriculture to union-specific legislation like right-to-work and prevailing wage laws. Not 10 minutes into the hour-long meeting, one member asked about the latter, saying “Let’s get the elephant out there.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s website, prevailing wage is defined as “the minimum hourly wage employers must pay certain workers who work on construction projects where state dollars are used to fund the construction.”
From his perspective, the chapter’s business manager Chad Katzung said it’s generally viewed as a positive thing by unions, as it helps prevent government agencies from awarding bids to contractors paying abnormally low wages.
Katzung explained that right-to-work laws are mandates requiring that unions provide the same protections and representations for members and nonmembers, regardless of whether or not they pay their dues.
“Right-to-work is always a big one with us due to the fact that I look at it as a way for somebody to freeload. They don’t have to pay fees for somebody to represent them,” said Katzung, whose views on the two topics aligned largely with those expressed by Feehan Wednesday night.
“We need to be talking in Congress about how to strengthen labor laws, the enforcement of prevailing wage and stop talking in a way where we always have to be on defense,” the candidate told those gathered. “There are those who would like right-to-work to be the law of the land no matter where you live and we have to stand up and fight it.”
Feehan also mentioned the recent “Protecting the Right to Organize Act,” which was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in December. He called the legislation, which aims to extend protections for union workers, the type of thing he would like to be advocating for.
Outside of labor-specific issues, health care and prescription drug costs were the largest recurring themes of the night, as were what Feehan said he would prioritize if elected.
“What I would hope to be able to do is have a huge impact on something that came up a lot today — health care and the cost of health care,” Feehan added in an interview, “and access to healthcare for a lot of rural communities, how far they have to go to get to the doctor and the quality of care that’s there. That’s unique to us here in southern Minnesota.”
When a union member asked Feehan if he supported the Affordable Care Act, he expressed interest in options that would allow people to keep existing insurance while expanding access for others.
“We have to be pursuing change until everybody has affordable health care in this country, and we’re not there yet,” he responded. “Whether that’s through tweaking the Affordable Care Act, or through a public option that would allow people to buy into Medicare.”
According to Katzung, Local 343 members are currently offered full family health care through the union starting as an apprentice. With a number of factors at play, he said it’s hard to tell how changes to the insurance market may impact the chapter.
“We’re grandfathered in under the Affordable Care Act. A lot of our decision-making is based off of what is dictated by that act, so depending on how they tweak that, there are so many variables there,” he explained.
After the meeting, Feehan said he hopes to meet with a number of representatives from the building trades during his campaign.
“To have a group like this get engaged, it helps me stay very much engaged with what’s going on and what’s on people’s minds,” he said.