Minnesota ‘right to work’ bill stalls in Legislature

A bill for a constitutional amendment prohibiting unions from requiring prospective employees to join or pay dues, making Minnesota a “right to work” state, was proposed in the House in early January but has yet to come before a committee.

Michael Zittlow

While the controversial Wisconsin bill cutting public employeesâÄô bargaining rights moves through the state Legislature there, a proposal to reduce union power hasnâÄôt moved in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
A bill for a constitutional amendment prohibiting unions from requiring prospective employees to join or pay dues, making Minnesota a âÄúright to workâÄù state, was proposed in the House in early January but has yet to come before a committee.
Originally, a âÄúright to workâÄù provision was part of another bill proposed by Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, but that language was removed from the bill before it was heard in the Government Operations and Elections Committee two weeks ago.
The bill includes provisions to reduce the state workforce by 15 percent over the next few years through layoffs and early retirement options. It also freezes public employee salaries.
Downey said the âÄúright to workâÄù provision âÄúwas simply designed to allow individual people the freedom to work where they want,âÄù but took the focus off the billâÄôs intent.
Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said public employees should not be the focus of reducing the deficit when citizens in the private sector make far more money annually.
Downey said his bill lets public workers become âÄúpart of the solutionâÄù to the budget crisis.
Still, union leaders and spokespeople took issue with DowneyâÄôs bill.
Brian Rice, an attorney for Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters, said the current bill, by limiting a state employeeâÄôs abilities to negotiate salary, would reduce employeesâÄô collective bargaining rights.
The bill was referred to the State Government Finance Committee, but a hearing has not been scheduled.
A proposed cut to collective bargaining rights has caused thousands of Wisconsin public employees to protest in Madison for two weeks.
Two weeks ago, Majority Leader Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said in a press conference that legislation similar to the Wisconsin bill would be futile in Minnesota under Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat.
âÄúWith no agreement from the governor, why go down that path?âÄù Koch said.
In a raucous rally at the Minnesota Capitol on Tuesday, Dayton, union leaders and members stood in solidarity with Wisconsin protesters.
Dayton assured that legislation restricting bargaining rights wouldnâÄôt pass under his watch.
âÄúWe will not let Minnesota become Wisconsin,âÄù Dayton said.
Still, unions and public employees are on the minds of lawmakers tasked with balancing the budget.
âÄúPublic employees are going to have to be part of the solution,âÄù Koch said.
DaytonâÄôs proposed budget would cut the state workforce by 6 percent.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said his move to cut collective bargaining is necessary to fix his stateâÄôs budget deficit, though unions have agreed to pay cuts to address the shortfall.