Public employees challenge anti-worker agenda at state Legislature

Members of the state’s largest public employee union converged on the state Capitol Tuesday to challenge a Republican legislative agenda they say would destroy Minnesota’s middle class.

Members of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, provide services at the local, county and state levels across Minnesota. Some 1,200 rank-and-file members took part in Tuesday’s “Day on the Hill.”

They rallied in the rotunda over the noon hour, then fanned out to meet with state lawmakers and voice their concerns about scores of anti-worker bills, including amendments to the state Constitution that would take away rights.

Of particular concern are the so-called “Right to Work” amendment and the amendment that would require a “supermajority” of lawmakers to approve any tax increases.

The Right to Work amendment, if placed on the ballot in November and ratified by voters, would allow workers covered by union contracts to avoid paying their fair share of the costs of representation, yet still enjoy the benefits of the contract. It also would weaken labor unions, which are the main advocates for the middle class, AFSCME members said.

“This is a bill that is a solution in search of a problem,” said Eliot Seide, Council 5 executive director. “It will destroy unions. It will destroy our standard of living.”

The proposed amendment for a “supermajority” would require a vote of 60% plus one to approve any revenue-raising measures in both houses of the Legislature. Currently, only a majority vote is required. If put into practice, “supermajority would virtually guarantee a permanent budget crisis in Minnesota,” said Jess Anderson, an AFSCME Local 66 member from Duluth.

“It would cause a permanent future of cuts in public services and the loss of thousands of our members’ jobs,” she told the crowd at the rally. Aid to local governments would drop, property taxes would go up as communities try to fill the gap, services would be slashed and many public workers would be laid off.

“Legislators need to do their job” and focus on the state’s economic recovery, rather than gimmicks like the “supermajority,” Anderson said.

AFSCME members crowded the balconies of the state Capitol rotunda (above) during the union's Day on the Hill. Local 151 member Mary Larson (below) and her son, 2-1/2-year-old Franklin Dennis, climbed the steps to meet with her state representatives.

AFSCME’s legislative priorities include defending the rights of workers to collectively bargain and have a voice on the job, saving and creating good jobs to sustain an economic recovery and raising revenue fairly to provide essential public services.

Decked out in green shirts and chanting, “We are the workers!” AFSCME members pledged to take that message to lawmakers.

Noted Local 744 member Victoria Johnson: “We put them there [in office] and we can get them out.”

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    Barb_Kucera's picture
    Barb Kucera

    I edit the Workday Minnesota news site, www.workdayminnesota.org