The 2013 legislative session presents Minnesota’s labor movement with opportunities we haven’t seen since 1990, the last time we had a pro-labor governor and labor-friendly majorities in both the House and Senate. After 22 years of playing defense, we finally have an opportunity to accomplish positive change for working people. The Minnesota AFL-CIO, working with our affiliate unions, has assembled an agenda for this session that focuses on new investments, tax fairness, job creation and workplace dignity and fairness.
Our No. 1 priority is the state budget. We need to make new investments in our roads and bridges, schools and colleges – and provide care and dignity for our senior citizens. To make these important investments, there needs to be new tax revenue. We need to increase revenue by reforming our tax system to ensure fairness and stability. We have witnessed years of cuts to state and local government services, education, higher education, health care, human services, transportation and public safety. At the same time we’ve been asked to pay more in fees, property taxes and tuition. To protect the wealthiest Minnesotans from paying their fair share, previous governors and legislators have resorted to spending down reserves and borrowing from schools and endowments. It’s time to balance the budget without gimmicks while providing the additional funding needed to invest in our future.
We can also increase revenue by putting Minnesota back to work. The state AFL-CIO supports the Mall of America expansion, and we also support a significant bonding bill to put people back to work improving our state’s infrastructure, which will support and facilitate future economic growth.
Feb. 1 will mark the 18th month of the American Crystal Sugar lockout. As I write this, both the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra remain locked out, and the NHL has only recently resumed games after a prolonged lockout. Locked out workers in Minnesota qualify for unemployment benefits, but cases like Crystal Sugar show that lockouts can linger well beyond the length of those benefits. That’s why we are proposing legislation to extend unemployment benefits for the duration of a lockout, and also add a penalty to the employer’s unemployment tax after the beginning of a lockout’s second month. Half of that penalty would go to the UI Trust Fund; the other 50 percent would support the Workforce Development Fund.
We will also support initiatives to protect workers’ right to organize, raise minimum wage and limit employers’ use of credit checks related to terms of employment. We will soon announce our complete agenda to the public.
The election was only the first half of ensuring pro-labor policies become law; the other half is holding elected officials accountable. We need union members to contact their legislators concerning these issues. For more information on labor-related legislation, contact our offices, visit www.mnaflcio.org or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
– Steve Hunter is Secretary-Treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, the statewide labor federation representing over 300,000 workers.