New Minneapolis policy promotes worker rights

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Every year the City of Minneapolis awards hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts for services and now a newly-adopted policy means that more of those contracts could be performed by union labor.

The Minneapolis City Council voted 12-0 Aug. 31 to adopt a “labor peace” policy that will apply to all contracts for services in excess of $250,000 when a determination has been made that the city has a “proprietary interest” in the contract.

“This is a significant resolution adopted by the City Council,” said Bill McCarthy, president of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council, who negotiated for more than a year with City Council members and staff to craft the labor peace proposal. “If the city finds they have proprietary interest, they will require labor peace, or in other words, card-check.”

The resolution adopted reads, in part: “A contractor performing services for the City of Minneapolis (“Contractor”) shall be or become signatory to a valid collective bargaining agreement… with any labor organization seeking to represent employees employed to perform services under Contractor’s contract with the City as a condition precedent to its contract with the City.”

In exchange, the labor organization must agree to refrain from “picketing, work stoppages, boycotts or any other economic interference with the services performed by the Contractor” for the duration of the contract.

The labor peace policy also requires participating contractors and labor unions to adopt collective bargaining agreements providing for binding arbitration to settle any disputes or negotiations.

First Ward City Council member Paul Ostrow, chief author of the labor peace policy, explained that the new policy advances two very important values: promoting the rights of working men and women and protecting the City’s interest in ensuring that City contracts are performed without interruption from strikes or other disputes.

The City previously has adopted labor peace language for specific contracts and specific developments.

“In the past, we’ve been hit and miss,” Ostrow noted. “Now we will have a formal process.”

“We wanted to make sure we have a good policy that withstands legal scrutiny,” added Elizabeth Glidden, Eight Ward City Council member, who took a lead role in guiding the labor peace policy through the city council.

The policy directs that all contracts for services in excess of $250,000 should be reviewed to determine whether the City has “financial, economic or proprietary interests” that need protection from the risk of disrupted services.

On a case by case basis, city staff and then the City Council will review each contract to determine whether labor peace should be required, explained attorney Brendan Cummins, who advised the CLUC during negotiations with the City. “The case by case analysis ensures [the City] is behaving as a ‘market participant,'” which is key to satisfying federal labor law, Cummins noted.

Cummins said the new Minneapolis labor peace policy follows language supported by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The “Sage Hospitality” decision upholding a Pittsburgh labor peace policy was written by Michael Chertoff, then U.S. Appeals Court judge, now U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

As the Minneapolis City Council came near to adopting the policy, Ninth Ward council member Gary Schiff asked why labor peace shouldn’t be applied to all development in which the City has a proprietary interest. The City Council instructed staff to explore this extension of the labor peace policy and report back at the end of September.

The City’s adoption of a labor peace policy for contracts presents both an opportunity and a challenge for unions.

“Unions have to be watching these contracts as they come up,” said CLUC president Bill McCarthy. If the City applies the labor peace policy, “the union has to be ready to come forward and organize those workers.”

Steve Share edits the Minneapolis Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council. See an entire digital archive of the Labor Review at www.minneapolisunions.org

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