Drazkowski threatens to derail state contracts with Right to Work ‘poison pill’

Union members packed the room during a House committee hearing on Right to Work for state employees.

Union members packed the room during a House committee hearing on Right to Work for state employees.


It’s fair to say state Rep. Steve Drazkowski has a reputation for advancing extreme ideas. He’s supported logging in Minnesota’s state parks and eliminating the Pay Equity Act, even floated the idea of replacing health care workers with baby monitors.

The Mazeppa Republican is at it again this session, inserting Wisconsin-style Right to Work language into a routine bill to approve new union contracts covering about 30,000 state workers.

The bill, House File 3585, received a hearing before a House committee on government operations yesterday. Union members from both the public and private sector packed the room, showing lawmakers a united front against any attempt to roll back workers’ rights.

“Rep. Drazkowski, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, is attempting to tear down working people and their aspirations for a better life,” Eliot Seide, director of AFSCME Council 5, warned lawmakers in testimony before the committee.

Drazkowski’s bill threatens to derail approval of collective bargaining agreements negotiated last year with four state-employee groups: AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, the Minnesota Nurses Association and the Middle Management Association.

Taken on their own, the contracts are not particularly controversial. Most workers will see annual wage increases of 2.5 percent while taking on a greater share of their health insurance costs.

But Drazkowski has attached several “poison pills” to the contacts, including language that would bar unions from charging “fair share fees” to cover the cost of representing state workers who choose not to become members. Such fees were ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court Monday.

Drazkowski also would require the state to negotiate union contracts in public, make it illegal for state employees to bargain for retroactive wage increases and restrict union members who work for the state from participating in political activities during unpaid time off.

As Seide and others pointed out to lawmakers, the bill mirrors many of the so-called “reforms” Walker took up in his first days as governor of Wisconsin six years ago. Since then, Wisconsin has struggled with state budget deficits, a sluggish economy, teacher shortages and corruption charges – issues that undermined the governor’s short-lived presidential campaign.

In addition to being bad public policy, Drazkowski’s poison-pill proposals are offensive to the people who work in public service, Leanne Kunze, assistant director of AFSCME Council 65, said.

“This unfair, unsafe and unnecessary legislation hurts workers, their families and our communities,” Kunze said. “Just look at our neighbors to the east to see the devastating ripple effect of unnecessary and unwarranted changes to longstanding collective bargaining history.”

DFL lawmakers on the committee, including Rep. Laurie Halverson of Eagan, worried that drastic changes in the state’s approach to dealing with its employees – especially changes designed to weaken their voice on the job – might disrupt labor peace.

“Anyone around this table who’s an employer knows they’re going to do better if their employees are happy and doing well,” Halverson said.

“I don’t understand what problem is looking for the solution that Rep. Drazkowski is trying to impose here,” Seide added. “Public-service workers work 24 hours a day, seven days a week for their state. They never quit. They ought not be constantly under attack and denigrated … as if they’re some kind of foreign enemy.”

Lawmakers took no action on Drazkowski’s bill yesterday, but it will be back on the agenda when the committee meets again next week.

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