Minnesota enters right-to-work controversy

Sen. Thompson’s amendment would allow optional union participation.

Minnesota enters right-to-work controversy

Matt Herbert


Minnesotans may vote in November on whether workers should be forced to join a union upon employment.

State Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, introduced an “Employee Freedom” amendment in early February, which would not require workers to join a union as conditions of employment. If they  choose to join a union, they wouldn’t be forced to pay the dues.

Unlike other “right to work” amendments that have passed, Thompson’s proposal doesn’t impact workers’ collective bargaining rights.

Republican supporters say the change would lure more business to the state, while opponents say it’s an attack on unions.

Minnesota is one of the most recent states to join the debate over the legislation.

Indiana became the 23rd state to adopt a right- to-work law when Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill Feb. 1.

If the proposal passes the Republican-controlled Legislature, the amendment would go straight on the November ballot. Gov. Mark Dayton, who has condemned the amendment, can’t veto constitutional amendments.

Thompson said Minnesotans should decide.

“The bill is simple and gives Minnesotans the chance to vote on whether or not an individual should be forced to pay a third party in order to work,” Thompson said. “We have an opportunity to increase freedom and liberty.”

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said the amendment is not what legislators were sent to the Capitol to do.

“Jobs should be a priority, not constitutional amendments,” Hilstrom said. “Minnesotans expect us to work on creating jobs and not [be] wasting our time on matters such as these.”

She said the amendment would force unions to pay for non-union employees.

AFL-CIO spokesman Chris Shields said the proposed amendment is “anti-middle class” and a “gamble” for the state. The Minnesota AFL-CIO represents 1,000 local unions and has more than 300,000 members, Shields said. Union members account for 16.5 percent of the working population in Minnesota — higher than the national average.

Shields said states without right-to-work laws tend to have higher quality of life. Minnesota had an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent in December, whereas right-to-work states had an average unemployment rate of 7.5 percent, according to the AFL-CIO.

“If the amendment somehow makes it on the ballot, voters will hear all the facts and realize they don’t want to be like the other states that are right to work,” Shields said.

Hilstrom said Republicans have proposed similar legislation in previous years, but those proposals failed.

Co-sponsor Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said current union rules are unfair to workers.

“In Minnesota law, if a worker refuses to pay union dues, they are fired. This isn’t fair and it’s definitely not free,” Drazkowski said in a press release. “To me, this is the most important pro-jobs bill we can pass this session.”

Thompson said data shows that economic growth is twice as high in right to work states as in non-right to work states.

He added that momentum for the legislation is building across the state.

“There are a lot of people who are excited about this amendment,” Thompson said. “The more people learn about it and find out how much misinformation is out there, the more support we get.”