MN House Vote May Roll Back Low-Wage Workers’ Gains

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Bill Sorem

150,000 low-wage workers may lose their hard-earned sick and safe time gains after a vote taken by the MN House last week. HF600, the Uniform State Labor Standards Act, would strip away the ability of local communities to create their own employment standards in the future. But it is also retroactive. Bill opponents say the it is a response to the successful organizing done in local communities to create more just working standards and conditions.

“Preemption limits and restricts democracy and it strips away local control and it locks in the things that are not working, it locks in the broken structures that we know about and we are talking about here at the Capitol. It is unfair, it is undemocratic, and it is not what Minnesota is about. We can do better,” said Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL- St. Paul), in a March 2nd pre-vote press conference organized by NOC and other opponents of HF600.

Advocates for local interference argue that uniform employment standards are meant to support businesses who are concerned about the “patchwork” of regulations they must contend with: locally, statewide, and nationally. Bill author Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) argues it is meant to protect employers by giving them regulatory and labor certainty. No all business agree. Small business owners have lobbied against the bill saying that when workers do better their businesses do better.

Videos: Local pre-emption bill is a “power grab”

Video above: Coalition of groups and lawmakers opposed to HF600 hold news conference, call it a “power grab.”
Video below: Rep. Erin Maye Quade speaks from personal experience about sick and safe time.

“We don’t take away what has been organized and fought for, that is not what we are here to do. And though I appreciate Representative’s Garofalo’s concern for the progressive movement, this is not about stopping right-to-work, because if it was it would not be retroactive. This targets the 150,000 Minnesotans who have or will have earned sick and safe time,” said Rep. Erin Maye Quade (DFL-Apple Valley).

Organizers are concerned that if HF600 is signed into law they would have to have to start organizing anew for just working conditions and a $15 minimum wage in Minnesota.

“Instead of being able to work and to speak with city councilmembers who we have built relationships with, people who have championed policy over the last couple of years that have helped working people and marginalized communities, we would have to come to the State Legislature. We would have to come down to St. Paul and deal with Republicans who obviously don’t get the problems of working people in the State of Minnesota,” said Rod Adams, a NOC organizer, “It would be like starting life over again.”

Several large Minnesota business associations and the Chamber of Commerce support HF600. It also has the backing of ALEC, the conservative thinktank, which has developed numerous examples of preemption legislation on everything from employment to the environment.

Late on Thursday night, the final vote on HF600 was 76-53. The Senate has yet to vote on the companion bill, but that is expected to happen soon. Reps. Pat Garofalo and Melissa Hortman have indicated that Governor Dayton would not sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

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