U TV show centers on workers

The public access show "Minnesota at Work" celebrated its 20th birthday this year.

Matt Graham

For two decades, the University’s Labor Education Service has put together a weekly public-access show to highlight labor issues from around the state.

“Minnesota at Work” celebrated its 20th birthday this year. The show, which appears on 15 public-access cable channels statewide and serves dozens of communities, aims to educate union members and raise public awareness about labor issues.

The show has been a mainstay on many public-access cable channels.

“Not too many shows have been on the air longer,” said Rick Jacobson, Metro Cable Network assistant director of operations.

Though there are no specific numbers, Jacobson said, the show has a potential audience of more than 600,000 people in the Twin Cities metro area alone, with more viewers throughout the state.

When not busy with other responsibilities for the Labor Education Service, Randy Croce and service director Howard Kling work together to assemble the show.

They usually produce one new show per month, with reruns airing between.

Croce, who has worked on the show for 15 years, said its primary purpose is to educate union members, allowing the labor negotiation process to flow more smoothly.

“It was felt that if union members know how to effectively and fairly administer discussions, there will be more labor peace” and less work stoppage, said Croce, the show’s producer.

The shows usually have a news-magazine format, with up to three segments per episode, he said.

Getting the word out

Aside from its weekly cable broadcasts, “Minnesota at Work” is often shown to labor groups to educate them about the specific issues.

“It’s a democratizing kind of thing,” Kling said. “It’s fun when you actually go show it to people and see their reactions.”

The show was a valuable tool for union members when the University’s clerical workers’ union went on strike in fall 2003, said Phyllis Walker, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 president.

“Any television material definitely helps,” she said.

“They taped hundreds of hours of our strike and interviewed every group of people imaginable,” Walker said. “They gave us the ability for our voices to be heard.”

Walker emphasized the importance of public support in swaying management during labor negotiations, a statement the show’s producers said they couldn’t agree with more.

“One thing labor needs to do is create a labor mass media infrastructure,” Kling said. “Labor really needs to get out there and articulate a vision.”

Kling said the 2004 elections showed how effective conservatives are at getting out their message.

“The liberal and left part of the spectrum doesn’t have anything near that,” he said.

Kling and Croce said it is vital that unions strive to create the sense of community they used to have.

“Organizing the unorganized is important,” Kling said. “But it’s not going to happen in a vacuum.”

Different voices

Croce and Kling said they are finishing an episode about sugar beet farmers in the Red River Valley, which they have been working at “discontinuously” since fall.

The show also demands much travel. “Minnesota at Work” has taken Kling to the Minnesota Iron Range, Mexico and Miami, among other places.

“You get to go a lot of places other people don’t get to go,” Kling said.

Croce and Kling said it is satisfying to travel throughout the state to talk to workers and see them on the job.

“Photographing people doing work is actually pretty interesting,” Kling said. “You look for those cool angles; it can be a lot of fun.”