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Unions’ friendly reception in Minnesota’s halls of power stands in contrast to the frozen protests in neighboring states like Wisconsin, where Republicans hold the leadership reins.
“We are kind of an island right now, certainly in the Midwest,” said Brad Lehto, Minnesota AFL-CIO chief of staff. “There is no doubt that labor in other places is having a very difficult time.”
Wisconsin erupted in protest — and then a recall fight — after Republican Gov. Scott Walker moved to clip labor’s power. In Michigan unions are fighting a new “right to work” law in court, while Indiana unions are grappling with a similar new law in that state. Right-to-work laws curtail unions’ power.
Last year, Minnesota Republican lawmakers, then in charge of the Legislature, attempted and failed to get the votes to pass a similar right-to-work measure.
The attempt was enough to stoke labor’s anger, and when the session ended, union members turned their attention toward getting labor-friendly lawmakers into office.
When the DFL took over the Minnesota House and Senate, it was clear things had changed.
“We can feel the palpable difference. We actually are here to support things, not to be against things. This is the first time in a long time,” Seide said last week just before he removed the “Union Thug” button from his green AFSCME jacket to meet with Dayton.
The unions are actively supporting Dayton’s budget, which, among other changes, calls for higher taxes on the wealthy. Dayton has said he supports unions. One of the first bills he signed this year ratified public employees’ contracts, which had been stymied by last year’s Republican-led Legislature.
Meanwhile, DFLers are proposing — and approving — measures that would never have seen daylight when Republicans were in charge. Legislative leaders have already offered full support for increasing a minimum wage that is one of the nation’s lowest and giving unemployment benefits to workers locked out by their employers. Some DFLers also back a union proposal to set hospital staffing levels.
“In 2011 and 2012, bill after bill was introduced to curtail the rights of working Minnesotans,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said earlier this year. “This new Legislature has an opportunity to chart a new course and produce positive change for middle-class families.”
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-925-5046
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042