Minnesota unions praise historic legislative session

Gov. Tim Walz spoke to supporters before signing 12 budget bills into law.

In a historically productive legislative session that ended on time Monday, labor-endorsed lawmakers delivered on nearly all their campaign promises, from investments in public infrastructure and schools to expansion of family-supporting benefits, union rights and workplace protections.

Union activists and leaders were among hundreds who celebrated the session’s accomplishments today on the Capitol grounds, as Gov. Tim Walz held a signing ceremony for 12 budget bills that will fund state government for the next two years.

Walz likened the newly approved budget to the “Minnesota Miracle” of 1971, when the state drew nationwide acclaim for investing in public education.

“If this is ‘Minnesota Miracle 2.0,’ the difference between then and now is … we’re leaving no one behind,” Walz said.

Labor leaders praised Walz and DFL legislators for rising to the occasion created by a projected budget surplus that swelled to $17.5 billion – thanks, in part, to one-time federal stimulus dollars that Republicans blocked the state from allocating one year ago.

After winning all three levers of power – with support from union volunteers – during the 2022 election, DFLers invested the surplus in infrastructure projects and jobs, schools, nursing homes and targeted tax relief for working families, including an expanded child tax credit that will return up to $1,750 per child to lower-income families.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, former director of the Minnesota Children’s Defense Fund, said the budget is “deeply rooted in equity and decades in the making.” She credited organizers and activists who have devoted years to fighting for policies that will soon become law, like earned sick and safe time and paid family leave.

“We have played the long game,” Flanagan said. “And we won.”

Children and families will also benefit from $2.26 billion in new funding for Minnesota’s public schools over the next biennium. The 10.5% increase will help school districts cover rising costs – and recruit and retain educators and other employees. And the budget allocates $600 million to hire and retain child care teachers.

Walz and DFL lawmakers focused on issues that matter to workers and families, Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bernie Burnham said, noting that their work stands in contrast to Republican-controlled chambers in other states that have sought to ban abortion, weaken child-labor laws and meddle in school curriculum.

“While other states are putting 14- and 15-year-olds to work on assembly lines, Minnesota is making sure parents have the time and resources to care for and sustain their families; while other states ban books in our schools and libraries, Minnesota is making sure no student goes hungry at school; and while other states make it harder to vote, Minnesota is expanding our Democracy to make sure every eligible voter has the freedom to make their voice heard,” Burnham said.

Walz is also expected to sign a $2.3 billion infrastructure deal that contains a mix of borrowing – a so-called “bonding” bill – and cash investments. It would be the first bonding bill the state has passed since 2020.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, the lead author, said the measure “will create thousands of well-paying union jobs and ensure businesses have the infrastructure they need to build in Minnesota for years to come.”

On the Capitol grounds today, Walz gave a shout to people in hard hats throughout the crowd. “All of these good union jobs have built the middle class and built Minnesota,” he said. “It is going to continue that way.”

In addition to historic investments approved this session, Minnesota lawmakers took up several policy changes long sought by union members, including an extension of unemployment benefits to hourly school employees, a ban on private prisons and a new Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board with the authority to set standards like pay and benefits.

Lawmakers expanded and strengthened union rights, enshrining public-sector workers’ ability to bargain on non-economic issues like safe staffing and class sizes, giving workers in the newly legalized recreational cannabis industry a path to collective bargaining and banning “captive audience meetings,” in which workers are forced to listen to their bosses’ religious, political or anti-union views.

Funds allocated this session will also bolster the state’s film industry tax credit, raise pay for home care and nursing home workers and strengthen public pensions.

A measure to address hospital staffing shortfalls, however, fell short of the Minnesota Nurses Association’s expectations. The bill established new safety protections and recruitment bonuses for health care workers, but it left out language that would have would have required hospitals to create labor-management committees to determine appropriate staffing in their wards.

Support for a safe staffing law dwindled after Mayo Clinic threatened to withhold investments in its Rochester campus if it passed.

“I hope Minnesotans know how hard nurses fought for your care and safety,” MNA President Mary Turner said. “And I hope corporate executives and our public officials know that our fight is not over to put patients before profits in our health care system.”

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