At a time when it seems nearly every state legislature is assaulting the rights of working families, Minnesota's House and Senate are bucking the trend and are likely to soon send Gov. Mark Dayton a series of strong pro-working family bills. According to Minnesota AFL-CIO Communications Director Chris Shields, this is the first time in 20 years the state government has been unified under one-party control, with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party holding the governorship and the majority in both houses of the legislature.
“In 2011 and 2012, bill after bill was introduced to curtail the rights of working Minnesotans,” says Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson. “This new legislature has an opportunity to chart a new course and produce positive change for middle-class families.”
And it looks like the legislature is taking that opportunity. Shields notes a number of bills that look likely to pass, including an extension of unemployment insurance payments for workers who are locked out by their employers, which is very likely to pass as part of a jobs bill. In a state that is home to not only the American Crystal Sugar lockout, but lockouts for both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, that provides some relief to workers who are locked out from earning a living.
Shields also is confident that the state's minimum wage would soon be increased. The Minnesota AFL-CIO supports the House bill, which both raises the wage to $9.95 over several years and indexes it to inflation, to the Senate version, which only raises the minimum to $7.75. So far, the bills also have avoided what Shields calls the "tip penalty." In Minnesota, tipped workers get the full minimum wage (plus whatever tips they earn), unlike much of the rest of the country, where tipped workers get a lower base minimum wage.
The legislature also looked set to close corporate tax loopholes and add a fourth tier to the state income tax, which would increase rates on the richest 2% of state residents. This would be the first chance in a long time to balance the budget fairly without cuts to the middle class, says Shields.
Yet another positive bill that looks likely to pass would give child care providers and in-home health care workers the right to vote whether or not to form a union and collectively bargain with the state. Dayton previously extended workers these rights, but the courts said that he overstepped his bounds and that only the legislature could grant those protections. Shields says the legislature seems poised to do so.