A stinging defeat on labor relations bill 75 years ago

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Transit workers ended their 44-day strike 10 years ago this month, after 72 percent of voting ATU Local 1005 members ratified a new contract with Metro Transit. Above: 6-year-old Nicholas Wagner attended his first union rally three days before the settlement.

The Minnesota Federation of Labor held an emergency special convention for the first time in its history April 3, 1939. On the agenda? How to defeat a labor-relations bill making its way through the Legislature that winter and considered by The Advocate to be “one of the most vicious anti-Labor bills ever introduced in the middle west.”

Known as the Vance-Myre bill, the measure reclassified some unfair labor practices as “unlawful acts,” making them misdemeanors punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

The bill’s opponents, including Rep. John Barrett, a member of St. Paul Steamfitters Local 455, called it an overreaction meant to “restrict the entire Labor movement for the overt acts of a few individuals or groups within the Labor movement.”

The measure passed on the final day of the legislative session, despite opposition from unions and lawmakers like Barrett.

“We should have left out any reference to unfair practices or unlawful acts leaving those exceptional situations to be dealt with under criminal code where they belong,” Barrett said.

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

50 Years Ago: Hospitals stonewalled health workers

Gov. Karl Rolvaag named an impartial arbiter in April 1964 to help settle a dispute between five St. Paul hospitals and members of Hospital Employees Local 113, a forerunner of today’s SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.

By April 1964, the hospitals had been dragging their feet in contract negotiations with the union for 13 months. State law denied hospital employees, as well as state and local government workers, the right to strike – meaning Local 113 members’ options for taking action against the hospitals were limited.

“Most unions would call a strike,” The Advocate reported in its April 9 edition, but the “poor substitute” left for hospital employees was to seek arbitration, a move they made after a meeting the month before with hospital management broke down.

R.A. Olson, president of the Minnesota Federation of Labor, said the situation revealed a need to change the state’s laws to empower hospital workers and public employees with a full complement of rights on the job.

“They are forbidden to strike and are given nothing in exchange for their loss of rights,” Olson said.

25 Years Ago: Nursing home workers aired grievances

In a meeting with two members of the Minnesota Senate Finance Committee, about 80 nursing home workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers, warned that low pay, poor benefits and threadbare staffing were eroding the quality of care in their facilities.

The meeting was organized by the Labor-Management Coalition for Quality Health Care.

One worker told senators she quit her nursing assistant job of nine years even though it meant a $2 per hour pay cut. “I couldn’t take it any more,” she said, noting workers often were assigned 15 to 20 patients at a time.

Sen. Don Samuelson told workers he didn’t anticipate a funding increase for nursing homes during the 1989 legislative session. The Legislature provided for a one-time, 3.5 percent increase in the previous budget, hoping nursing home operators would pass on the influx to workers.

But many of the non-union nursing homes “used it for workers’ compensation premium increases,” so many workers didn’t see a penny, he said.

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