The economic debate hasn’t changed much in 25 years

A cartoon from the Jan. 27, 1938, Union Advocate presents a familiar problem.

A cartoon from the Jan. 27, 1938, Union Advocate presents a familiar problem.

Business owners say Minnesota’s economic climate is poor, urging lower tax rates and steep cuts to government spending. Union leaders say Minnesota owes its high quality of life to public investments in education and infrastructure that are a catalyst for economic growth.

That’s the debate likely to take place when state lawmakers return to the Capitol next month, and it sounds an awful lot like the “Great Debate” that took place between business leaders and labor leaders in a public forum 25 years ago in St. Paul.

As it turns out, the arguments weren’t all that fresh 25 years ago either, according to the Feb. 1 edition of The Union Advocate: “For the most part the comments were familiar, as both business and labor summarized their positions. The clearest conflict emerged over the questions of workers’ compensation and whether the state has a poor business climate.”

[The Union Advocate’s “This Month in the Archives” feature offers a look back at what our newspaper was reporting from 5 to 100 years ago. Our digital archives are online, searchable and free to anyone. Click here for access.]

Sponsored by the St. Paul Labor Speakers Club, the Jan. 25, 1987, debate drew four participants, two from labor and two from business, including Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Win Borden.

Businesses will flee Minnesota as the national economy recovers, Borden said, unless the state cuts spending for government services, reduces corporate property taxes and cuts the cost for unemployment and workers’ compensation.

“The tragic fact is some states will be left behind because some states are not as creative as they should be in creating new jobs,” Borden said. “Unfortunately Minnesota is one of those states.”

Eliot Seide, then the area director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, wasn’t buying what Borden was selling. He “chided the business lobbyists for failing to acknowledge what Minnesota gets for its tax dollars – excellent education, a good transportation system and a great quality of life – all factors that attract business,” The Advocate reported.

Seide even seemed a little disappointed to be repeating the same old, tired debate still echoing in the House and Senate chambers today.

“I came here hoping to hear something different,” he acknowledged.

Tom Majeski (left),  a reporter for the Pioneer Press, distributed fliers outside the Xcel Energy Center  Jan. 14, 2003. About 50 members of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild, took part in the action to protest cuts sought by management during bargaining.

Tom Majeski (left), a reporter for the Pioneer Press, distributed fliers outside the Xcel Energy Center Jan. 14, 2003. About 50 members of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild, took part in the action to protest cuts sought by management during bargaining.

10 Years Ago: Proposed wage freeze drew cold reception from PiPress workers

More than 50 Pioneer Press employees, members of the Minnesota Newspaper Guild Typographical Union, froze their tails off outside a Minnesota Wild game to protest management’s attempt to freeze workers’ wages for three years, The Advocate reported in its Jan. 23, 2003, edition.

Union members at the Pioneer Press, who had been working without a contract since July 2002, distributed handbills to Wild fans heading into the arena. The sheets featured team rosters on one side and bargaining information on the other.

In addition to the wage freeze, Knight-Ridder, which owned the newspaper at the time, sought to “raise the employees’ share of family health-care costs by 50 percent, freeze pension contributions, and extract other concessions, even though the paper is profitable,” The Advocate reported.

75 Years Ago: Minnesota Box Company landed on do-not-patronize list

The St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly put Minnesota Box Company on its do-not-patronize list, prompting the city’s unions begin pressuring area brewing companies and bottlers to make sure the union label appears on their crates and boxes carrying its products.

Trades and Labor President Ray Wentz put Minnesota Box on the list after management refused to include employees laid off during a “seasonal slump” in a union election.

Minnesota Box President N.J. Lennartson “has frequently stated that he did not believe any of his employees wished to join a union, and his attitude has been one of antagonism against unionization,” Wentz told The Advocate.

Landing on the list meant Minnesota Box would have trouble competing with manufacturers entitled to use the union label on their boxes and crates, Box Makers business representative Charles LaVaque said.

“The St. Paul Bottling company and the Superior Bottling company use nothing but union-made boxes for their soft drinks,” LaVaque said. “The Hamm Brewing company also uses union-made cases, and we urge our friends to insist on union-made boxes, shipping cases and wooden cartons.”

100 Years Ago: Democrats in St. Paul Fire Department fired

St. Paul Mayor Herbert Keller drew sharp criticism in a front-page story in The Union Advocate’s Jan. 31, 1913, edition, after the city’s Fire Commissioners fired nine St. Paul firefighters for being “too old to be efficient” any longer.

The Advocate suspected there was an additional reason for the firefighters’ dismissal: “the fact that they are all Democrats.”

Keller, who held office from 1910 to 1914, claimed to be running a non-partisan administration. The city’s union leaders weren’t buying it.

“None of (the fired firefighters) is really too old to be efficient, but the mayor wanted their places for some of his political friends,” The Advocate claimed.

The firings added insult to injury for city firemen, who had been granted only a “small increase in pay” by Keller’s administration months earlier.

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