Proposed constitutional amendment would make Minnesota a ‘Right-to-Work’ state

Thompson leads effort in Senate

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

Republicans present a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday, that if approved by voters would ban joining a union or paying union dues as a condition of employment.

Sen. Dave Thompson, Republican from Lakeville, heralded the proposed amendment — often generically referred to “Right-to-Work” — as touching at the heart of economic liberty.

Democrats were unimpressed.

“It’s an attack on working folks,” said Sen. Kenneth Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, a member of the Carpenters’ Union for 35 years.

In detailing the proposal, Thompson stressed what the proposed amendment would not do. “This in no way changes collective bargaining in Minnesota,” said Thompson. “Zero,” he said.

The only thing the proposed amendment would change is that nobody would be forced to join a union, Thompson said.

Flanked by a group of area lawmakers — senators Hann, Benson, Nienow, Gerlach, Hall, Gazelka — House bill author Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazzeppa, said having voters pass the proposed amendment in November would inspire a “renaissance” in job creation in Minnesota.

Republicans argue that Minnesota by becoming a Right-to-Work state would invite an inflow of investment and workers.

Drazkowski suggested the reason Delta Airline, which merged with Minnesota-based Northwest Airline, decided to base its corporate office in Georgia is because Georgia is a Right-to-Work state. He called the proposed amendment the most important pro jobs bill the lawmakers could pass.

The lawmakers said that the proposed amendment was not anti-union. Indeed, Thompson, in reviewing the legislation, noted that the legislation prohibits employers from making nonunion involvement a condition of employment.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, a former member of two unions, said the intention of the proposed amendment was “very simple.” Hann believes the amendment will pass the legislature and be passed by voters.

“I think people should be free to join unions. I think it’s a constitutional right,” Hann said.

Hann also said that if unions and union benefits are so appealing, “why do you need a law to force people to join,” he asked. Hann views the proposed amendment, if passed by voters, as forcing unions to make clearer their benefits — invite greater transparency, he said.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton does not have veto power for constitutional amendment proposals.

“This is an employee rights bill and a jobs bill.  Any employee should have the freedom to choose to join or not join a union and to pay or not pay union dues,” said Gazelka. “This bill will make a union-employee’s union more responsive to his or her individual concerns.”

Democratic lawmakers depicted the proposed amendment as divisive and another Republican gift to the wealthy.

“(It’s) nothing more than Right-to-Work for less,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm,

The Democrats, including House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said no Democratic lawmaker would vote for the proposed amendment. They suggested that in part Republican support for the amendment stems from a desire to sap union-based campaign support for Democrats.

“It does not protect anybody’s rights,” Kelash said.

Beyond this, the reason some businesses are unionized is because the management agreed to it, he said. “This is not a one-sided thing,” Kelash said.

In union shops, nonunion employees do pay union dues, but only partial dues, he said.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson depicted the proposed amendment as the latest of unending Republican stream.

“This is yet another desperate attempt from Senator Thompson, Representative Drazkowski, and out of state special interests to publicize a bill that has bipartisan opposition in the Legislature,” she said in a statement.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 Director Eliot Seide in a statement said the proposed amendment if adopted would drive down wages, not increase them.

“We must stop this attack on everyday people who deserve a decent job, health care, and a secure retirement. Until we do that, big money bullies will never get enough,” she said.

Republicans argue wages in Minnesota would be higher today had so-called Right-to-Work law been enacted here years ago. More than 20 states have enacted similar law, they say.

Professor of Work and Organizations John Budd at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota said it’s difficult to determine the impact of Right-to-Work law on wages. For one thing, the states that have Right-to-Work laws have had them for a long time, he said. Beyond this, comparing the economies of states is difficult — plainly Minnesota and Mississippi, for instance, are dissimilar.

States that offer lower wages, weak workers’’ compensation laws, weaker environmental permitting process, probably are magnets for business, he said. “Of course, business would like that,” Budd said.

But is that the kind of state in which you’d like to live, he asked?

Because politics is part of the Right-to-Work debate, it’s hard to find a set of facts everyone will agree on as a basis for debate, Budd said.

Personally, Budd feels there’s a degree of anti-union sentiment in the Right-to- Work debate. Big employers have successfully worked with unions for years in Minnesota, he said.

Currently, 15.6 percent of the Minnesota workforce is unionized — the percentage over the past decade has fallen, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

About 8 percent of the Minnesota private sector is unionized, and about 57 percent of the Minnesota public sector, according Unionstats.com.

To view a video of the events, visit: http://youtube/4p58zclgwus

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