The Minnesota AFL-CIO will be approaching the DFL-controlled Legislature this year for protection for workers at workplaces subject to a lockout, including American Crystal Sugar of Moorhead.
The state's largest labor federation, which had to fight off a right-to-work proposal under a GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011 and 2012, is hoping for a warmer reception this year.
"Things have changed," said AFL-CIO president Shar Knutson.
Among the federation's priorities is a "lockout accountability act." Currently employees at businesses subject to a lockout can draw unemployment benefits, but only as long as other workers who lose jobs. The bill would extent unemployment benefits as long as the lockout continues, and financially penalize employer who lock out employees.
The provisions "will give employers pause" before they lock out workers, Knutson said.
A lockout, unlike a strike, involves the employer refusing to allow workers on the premises, generally during protracted contract negotiations. In the case of American Crystal Sugar, the lockout began Aug. 1, 2011 after union members rejected a contract officer. It has grown into one of the longest work stoppages in Minnesota history. Unemployment benefits for workers have expired.
Locked-out worker Becki Jacobson of Moorhead appeared at the AFL-CIO news conference to describe the financial toll the strike has taken. "This lockout has destroyed families," she said.
Other provisions the federation will seek include:
-- Increasing the state minimum wage from $6.25 per hour to $10.55 per hour and requiring the rate to automatically increase in the future to keep pace with inflation;
-- Barring discipline against employees who do not attend employers' speeches aimed at changing their vote.
-- Banning employers from using a poor credit rating for decisions on hiring, firing or promotion.
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