Dayton’s final two years create window of opportunity for progress, unions say

capitolDuring the 2015 legislative session, a group of DFLers in the Minnesota Legislature put forth a bold set of proposals for paid family leave, earned sick and safe time, fair scheduling and protections to ensure people get paid for their work.

They called it the “Working Parents Act,” and it went absolutely nowhere.

“We couldn’t get any action on any of the proposals in the House,” Sen. Sandy Pappas remembered. “We couldn’t get them to hold hearings or have any kind of discussion on the issues we were raising.”

One year later, Pappas and her colleagues in the DFL-controlled Senate dialed down their expectations. They zeroed in on paid family leave, passing a measure that would ensure new parents aren’t forced to choose between their careers and their families during the critical first weeks of a child’s life.

Once again, the legislation hit a roadblock in the House, where Republicans held a majority.

It’s a pattern that’s played out on a number of issues at the Capitol over the last two years. And lawmakers and labor leaders agree that progressive, pro-worker legislation will continue to languish in the House unless working families win majorities in both chambers Nov. 8.

That means electing labor-endorsed candidates like Burnsville small business owner Lindsey Port in House District 56B, Rosemount realtor John Huot in District 57B and dozens of others across the East Metro area.

Port believes guaranteeing families access to paid leave is “one of the best ways we can grow the middle class.”

“It is a win-win for both employees and employers,” she said. “It allows employees to spend critical time with loved ones and employers to keep well trained and talented workers. This should be a top priority in the 2017 legislative session.”

Huot wants to see Minnesota make working families’ health care more affordable. A former emergency medical responder and member of the Minnesota Nurses Association, he believes Minnesota is the kind of state that is capable of thinking big.

“The insurance companies are going to keep cutting away, and pretty soon we’ll all end up with high deductibles and high premiums,” Huot said. “One of the biggest reasons I’m running is because I know we’re a state that can fix it. We can figure this out, but you’ve got to get the right people in office.”

A working-families majority might be critical to preserving gains made on another labor priority, earned sick and safe time, at the local level.

Both St. Paul and Minneapolis passed ordinances expanding access to the benefit this year, but a Chamber of Commerce lawsuit now claims they are in conflict with state law. Similar lawsuits targeted local smoking ordinances until lawmakers passed a statewide smoking ban in restaurants in 2007.

“When 1.1 million workers across Minnesota lack access to earned sick and safe time, we need lawmakers who will build on the progress we’ve made in St. Paul, not undermine it,” St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper said. “That’s what our labor-endorsed candidates will do.”

Perhaps no one is rooting harder for a labor majority in St. Paul next year than Gov. Mark Dayton, who has two years remaining in office. Some of his biggest accomplishments so far – raising the minimum wage, restoring fairness to the state’s tax system and signing the Women’s Economic Security Act – came in 2013-14, when labor-endorsed lawmakers controlled both legislative chambers.

“We saw what was done in 2013-14,” Pappas said. “We were able to rock and roll on a lot of our issues, and we’d love another window of opportunity to progress on these key issues for families.”

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