The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 3, 2013

DFL control drove big union wins in Legislature

Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio

---- — By Tom Scheck

Minnesota Public Radio

The state's labor unions are celebrating a big year at the Capitol. New state employee contracts, labor peace deals, unemployment aid for locked out workers and bills that let day care providers unionize all passed into law.

That success came because Democrats control the Legislature and the governor's office. Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislative leaders have been more receptive to union-backed initiatives than Republicans, who ran at least part of state government between 1998 and 2012.

Republicans claim the new laws are political payback and say it's a sign of DFL overreach. The state's unions, meanwhile, are running radio ads and sending out mailings thanking Democrats for their support.

"The 2013 legislative session was a big win for working families," said Jamie Gulley, president of the Minnesota Service Employees International Union.

"After years and years of politics of gridlock or politics that was focused on protecting the wealthiest in the state, the upper income folks and tax cuts for the wealthy, we saw a session that was focused on working families."

Republicans were mostly forced to watch on the sidelines as Democrats pushed through labor-friendly laws.

"We've got to look at reality. The unions fund Democrats' elections. They fund them very well," said Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa.

Democrats, he said, have been a "rubber stamp" for the unions, which mostly backed DFL candidates for the Legislature. Those union-backed policies, he argued, will help grow union membership and boost political contributions for DFL candidates.

"I think Minnesotans need to know that elections have consequences and one of the consequences here is overreach here by the Democrats in order to provide these payback policies for their union friends."

Gulley praised the Legislature for passing laws that allow in-home day care workers and personal care assistants to vote to join a union. He also touted pay hikes for long-term care workers, pay raises for state workers and letting workers use paid sick days to care for relatives other than their children.

Campaign finance reports show that unions spent more than $3 million to help elect Democrats in Minnesota last year. And the unions already have an eye on helping Democrats win again in 2014.

The Minnesota AFL-CIO is sending out campaign mailings and running radio ads praising Democrats in competitive districts for the last legislative session.

Minnesota AFL-CIO president Shar Knutson declined to say where the union is spending their money but said it's thanking House Democrats for their work.

"We will support those who have done great work and who support working people in this state."

And it appears labor isn't done, since unions didn't get everything they wanted this time around. Knutson says they will push for key labor initiatives next session. They include a minimum wage increase, a larger bonding bill and increased funding for roads, bridges and transit.