Shar Knutson: 2015 legislative session presents challenges, opportunities


Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson

The 2015 legislative session is nearly one month old, and Minnesotans are presented with a very different situation than we were in 2013 and 2014. While Gov. Dayton was reelected and a DFL majority remains in the Senate, Republicans now control the Minnesota House.

With a DFL-controlled state government, Minnesota’s labor movement successfully advocated for a minimum wage increase, fair taxes, education investments and expanding collective bargaining rights. While the Republican House majority might not be interested in helping empower working people, that’s no reason for labor to sit on the sidelines.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO is going to continue being a strong advocate for working people this year. We are advocating for a Shared Prosperity and Job Creation agenda. These are issues that matter to all workers, regardless of whether or not they have a union card.

Ending wage theft. A shocking number of workers are denied the wages they are owed for the work they perform. Unscrupulous employers often pay less than what was agreed, force workers to perform duties off the clock, cheat state and local governments out of legally required taxes and insurance contributions and sometimes withhold pay altogether.

Workers deserve the wages they earn. The Legislature can fight wage theft by passing legislation that:

  • Establishes formal procedures to enable victims of wage theft to recover unpaid wages and damages.
  • Increases the penalties for those responsible for committing wage theft.
  • Provides greater protection for workers who stand up for their rights – protecting them from employer retaliation.
  • Makes it easier for wage-theft victims to get legal representation.

Paid family leave and earned sick days. We all get sick. But not all of us can stay home when we are contagious. In cities and states without earned sick days standards, two of every five workers don’t earn a single day of earned sick leave. Many of them work on the front lines of public health and food safety – in restaurants, retail and even health care.

We support the passage of two types of leave this session:

  • Earned sick and safe leave, usable by employees with little or no advance notice, to recuperate from illness, seek medical care, care for family members or deal with the consequences of domestic violence.
  • Longer-term leave such as paid family leave.

Fair scheduling. The retail, service and health care sectors are now the fastest growing industries in our state. The increase in the minimum wage has and continues to be a great boost for these workers, but it’s just one step in developing secure, family-wage jobs. Full-time positions with stable schedules are also vitally important. Minnesota workers need scheduling standards that support families and help make their lives predictable.

Reforms should include requiring employers to provide adequate notice of schedule changes, maintain consistent and agreed-upon hours and offer full-time opportunities.

Comprehensive, long-term multi-modal transportation funding. Minnesota cannot grow and attract good jobs when our infrastructure is wearing out and transit options are woefully inadequate. Too many of our roads and bridges have exceeded their lifespans and are in desperate need of repair.

Workers need safer roads and better public transportation to get to jobs. Our seniors and people with disabilities need options to live independently.

We are also working with our affiliates and allies on:

  • Investing in quality learning environments, engaging students and improving educational outcomes.
  • Keeping Minnesota on strong fiscal footing by protecting progressive revenue sources.
  • Funding Child Care Assistance Programs (CCAP).
  • Ensuring retirement security.
  • Strengthening long-term care funding.

In addition to this Shared Prosperity and Job Creation agenda, the Minnesota AFL-CIO will support a range of issues that address income inequality, economic opportunity and tax fairness, as well as legislation championed by our affiliated unions.

– Shar Knutson is president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, the state’s largest federation of labor unions.

%d bloggers like this: