The green-shirted ranks of AFSCME, the union of public employees in Minnesota, gathered in the Capitol rotunda today to vow a Wisconsin-style battle if the Legislature pursues anti-union measures this year.
"We're going to make Ohio and Wisconsin look like a picnic in this state," thundered Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, as the group roared its approval.
Tuesday' was the annual lobbying day for AFSCME, whose full name is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The rally, which filled the rotunda and lined the railings for two floors above, was aimed at measures such as the "right to work."
Proposed as a constitutional amendment, the "right to work" has stalled in committee. It would allow workers who choose to remain outside existing unions to do so without paying dues or fees.
AFSCME officials said 1,200 people were registered for the lobbying day. Speakers also denounced proposed changes in pension plans and proposed constitutional amendments to limit state spending or taxing authority. They expressed their support for DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's attempt to raise income taxes on wealthy Minnesotans.
But the message of the rally appeared to tell Republican leaders not to provoke union wrath in an election year.
In Wisconsin, a 2011 law that limits public-employee bargaining rights led to huge protests, walkouts by Democratic legislators and recall efforts aimed at Gov. Scott Walker and state senators. In Ohio, passage of a similar union restriction resulted in public referendum that restored union bargaining rights.
"It's time to stop the war on the middle class, to stop the war on workers," Seide shouted as the union members roared their approval. "It's time for Minnesota to tax the rich!"
"We're going to talk about the right-to-work-for less amendment," Seide said, as the crowd booed. "That amendment is unsafe, unfair and unnecessary. We already have the best quality of life. We already have higher pay than right to work states. We already are healthier. We have better education. We are one of the top three states in quality of life...
"We don't want to be in a race to the bottom, to become Mississippi and Alabama!"
Mike Ahlf, who works for the Metropolitan Council, said the message was to "leg the Legislature know public employees are still out there. We're watching what they're doing." He said workers want to remind legislators "you don't just represent the corporations."
Ahlf said he took time off his job for AFSCME's annual day at the hill event. An AFSCME spokeswoman said some local unions reimburse those who participate, but most do not.