Addressing a roomful of union retirees in Maplewood today, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton recounted his morning meeting with members of Laborers Local 563 who are on strike, fighting to ensure a secure retirement of their own.
Dayton’s remarks to the Minnesota State Retiree Council’s 17th convention came on the heels of a dialogue with workers who have been walking the picket line outside the Cretex concrete plant in Shakopee since June 19. About 40 workers went on strike after the company refused to budge from its demand they give up the defined-benefit pensions many had been self-funding for decades.
One Cretex worker, the governor recalled, had “tears streaming down her face” as she explained what losing her pension after 20 years of service to the company would mean for her family’s quality of life. Dayton did not identify Cretex by name, but said it was disheartening to see any company “take advantage of the fact there really isn’t a recourse for working men and women” when management decides to cut workers’ benefits.
The governor also said he planned to reach out to company executives for their side of the story, and that he hopes to see workers return to their jobs soon.
Tim Mackey, Local 563’s business manager, confirmed the meeting with Dayton, saying he was hopeful it would be a step toward resolution of the 3-month labor dispute.
“Thanks to this meeting with the governor, we can hopefully make further progress and get back to work,” he said.
Leaders from Operating Engineers Local 49 also attended the meeting with Dayton. Cretex employs 49ers at several of its facilities, and their current contract with the company is set to expire Dec. 31. That means 49ers are “on deck,” Business Manager Glen Johnson said.
“We don’t intend on allowing Cretex to take our members’ pensions away,” Johnson added. “We’re ready to fight for our members’ retirement too.”
The rest of Dayton’s remarks to retirees focused on politics. Highlights included:
• Jobs numbers. Dayton pointed to a report showing Minnesota had seen the fifth-most economic growth of any state last year. He also trumpeted the most recent state jobs report, which shows the state has regained all the jobs it lost during the Great Recession. About 122,000 Minnesotans who were unemployed when he took office, Dayton said, have jobs today.
“We’ve got 152,000 Minnesotans unemployed,” Dayton acknowledged. “We’ve got a lot more to do, but we’re making progress.”
• Minimum wage. A labor-backed coalition of groups announced plans during the State Fair to push a bill that would raise the state’s minimum hourly wage to $9.50 by 2015. Dayton said he supports such a bill, pointing out that the state’s current minimum wage of $6.15 per hour is the lowest among Upper Midwest states.
“What does that say about Minnesota and our commitment to working men and women?” Dayton said. “I believe we want work to pay.”
• Union organizing. Dayton said he was disappointed with a federal appeals court’s ruling that temporarily blocks a law passed last spring allowing child-care providers who receive state subsidies to vote on forming a union.
The legal challenge was bankrolled by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents providers who oppose the union. Dayton decried the corporate-backed legal fund as an “extreme right-wing element in this state and this country” that was fighting to keep workers from deciding for themselves whether to form a union.
Rather than fighting to strip them of their rights, Dayton added, “we should be embracing” the people who want to improve wages, benefits, working conditions and training opportunities for workers in critical fields like home health care and child care.
• Health insurance exchange. A new federal report shows MNsure, the new health insurance exchange created as part of the federal health care overhaul, will offer the lowest rates of any state in the nation. “That’s something to be incredibly proud of,” Dayton said.
Dayton also thanked AFL-CIO retirees – he called them “the voice of middle-class Americans who have worked hard all their lives and played by the rules” – for their work last fall to win pro-worker majorities in the Legislature. “We really moved Minnesota ahead,” he said.