While our last post, Labor Day is the new Memorial Day: former lawmaker John Kriesel retweets the confusion, suggests that some Americans on twitter are drinking a strange brew of amnesia and mission creep, the labor movement in Minnesota can savor some victories in 2014.
And it’s only September 1.
This article is reposted from TCDP media partner Bluestem Prairie. Check out the links below for other recent Bluestem Prairie stories:
Organizing in the workplace
Two organizing victories underscore the idea that labor has to reinvent itself in a changed world, while continuing to represent more traditional workplaces. Just last week, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota won an election for the right to represent personal care workers.
Associated Press staff writer Kyle Potter reported in Minnesota in-home health care workers say yes to unionizing; seek better wages, benefits:
Thousands of in-home health care providers in Minnesota voted to create their own union, the state announced Tuesday after tallying the results.
With the union now authorized, the Service Employees International Union, which organized the election, can negotiate with the state for wages and benefits for the estimated 27,000 eligible workers. About 60 percent of the roughly 5,800 voters who cast ballots approved unionization, the Bureau of Mediation Services said.
Union supporters who care for sick, elderly and disabled patients in their own homes celebrated the creation of their new union as a sign that better pay is on the horizon. . . .
The new union will represent about 27,000 personal care attendants, including those who didn’t vote or voted against unionization. There are nearly 110,000 such workers in Minnesota, but only those who treat Medicare enrollees were eligible to vote in the union election. SEIU has said.
The union is unusual in that the workers organized around the Medicare enrollees, rather than a single workplace or a more tradtional employer.
In June, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) worked out a draft agreement with Target for pro-worker language in the contracts the retail giant has with contract cleaning companies in the seven county metro area.
Dave Jamieson reported in Target Hands A Big Victory To Low-Wage Janitors In Minnesota:
Following a string of strikes and protests held by low-wage workers in Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Minnesota-based retailer Target has agreed to insert language into its vendor contracts urging high labor standards at the firms that clean the company’s stores in the area.
According to a draft of the agreement shared with HuffPost, Target will stipulate that the cleaning companies it works with cannot interfere with workers’ organizing rights, must follow wage-and-hour laws and must establish worker safety committees.
Significantly, the draft agreement would also compel the subcontractors to bargain with a labor union seeking to represent the workers, so long as the union agreed not to carry out strikes, protests or other “economic interference with Target’s operations.” . . .
The company’s move earned praise from the labor group that spearheaded the strikes, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, which has worked closely with the Service Employees International Union on its retail cleaning campaign.
“I’m feeling so happy now with this new policy. I think it’s really good,” Maricela Flores, who cleans a Target store for Carlson Building Maintenance, said in Spanish through an interpreter. “This policy is what’s going to give us a way to negotiate with the contractors to be able to change our conditions and be heard on the job.”
Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, said in an email that the company wanted to affirm the labor standards it expects from its contractors, though she added that the company couldn’t discuss the details of the contract language. The draft was provided to HuffPost by CTUL.
Organizing in St. Paul
As part of a broad partnership forged with faith and community groups, labor in Minnesota persuaded the legislature to raised the state minimum wage–which had been one of the lowest in the nation–to $9.50 by August 2016, with future raises indexed to inflation.
The state minimum wage for most Minnesota workers climbed to $8/hour on August 1.
It’s not a livable wage, but it does put more money into the hands of individul low wage workers.
The second victory is the passage of the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), an omnibus package of legislation to improve the lives of women in the workplace. At RH Reality Check, Erin Matson wrote in early August How Minnesota Passed a Massive Economic Security Law for Women:
With state legislatures spending an enormous amount of time debating and often passing measures that restrict women’s rights, it stands out as remarkable when a governor uses his or her pen to sign a piece of legislation that does something good for women. But that is just what has happened in Minnesota, where the Women’s Economic Security Act (HF 2536) went into effect August 1.
The law provides an expansive host of benefits, including requirements that employers provide basic accommodations for pregnant workers, and protections for mothers who need to express breast milk. It raises the minimum wage, and provides a number of protections intended to address the economic consequences of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault, including an expansion of unemployment insurance and allowing employees who are victims of violence to use paid sick time. It requires private businesses with 40 or more employees seeking state contracts above $500,000—that’s about 1,000 state contractors—to have an “equal pay certificate” verifying that the average compensation for employees in similar positions do not vary by gender. It contains provisions similar to those within the stalled federal Paycheck Fairness Act, such as not allowing employers to retaliate against employees for discussing their wages. It provides funding to promote increased employment of women in highly paid industries where they are dramatically underrepresented, including construction. (Currently, 6 percent of construction companies in the state are owned by a woman.)
“Nothing else like this is happening in the nation,” Lee Roper-Batker, president of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, was quoted saying in the Star Tribune.
Matson’s interview with Debra Fitzpatrick, program director at the Center on Women and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, is definitely worth a read.
There’s more to be done–Bluestem would like to see paid family leave for new parents–but it’s a start.
Photo: Personal care workers announcing their victory in their organizing drive, via SEIU Minnesota State Council (above)