Union Supporters Rally to Stop “Right to Work” for Less!

Union members lined the hallways surrounding the hearing room

Bruce Halverson, AFSCME Local 34

Rosemary Tomscha, AFSCME Local 34

Photos by Michael Kuchta

Union members keep a vigil outside the hearing room

More than 1,600 union members started the work week with a rousing rally outside the Capitol's most ornate hearing room. Inside, tthe Senate Judiciary Committee met for nearly four hours to discuss adding "right to work (for less)" language to the state constitution. Outside, union members surrounded the circular hearing room, often drowning out testimony with chants such as "Just Vote No" and "Right to Work, Unfair. Right to Work, Unsafe. Right to Work, Bad Deal." Demonstrators also filled up three overflow rooms, which according to the Senate's sergeant-at-arms, was the biggest overflow crowd in his career at the Legislature. 

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In a rousing start to the workweek, 1,600 union members crowded the state Capitol Monday morning to oppose adding an unsafe, unfair and unnecessary “right to work” amendment to the state Constitution. Union chants outside the hearing room often drowned out testimony inside. Despite bipartisan opposition, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the bill on a 7-6 vote. Photos

All five DFLers on the committee voted against the measure. One Republican, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), who helped organize a union of deputy sheriffs in the 1970s, voted against it. The remaining Republicans voted for it.

The next stop for the proposed amendment is the Senate Rules Committee. But no action has yet been taken in the House. If the bill has enough support to pass both floors, the question of the “right to work” would be put on the November 2012 ballot. If voters approve, it would become an amendment to the state Constitution.

 

More action ahead: “Right to work” will face an uphill battle if union members continue to turn out the way they did for the first hearing on March 12. At 7 a.m. union members surrounded the Capitol's most ornate hearing room and lined nearby stairwells. Their chants echoed through the arched hallways – “Just Vote No,” “Attacks on Workers Have Got to Go,” “Union Busting is Disgusting,” and "Right to Work: UNFAIR. Right to Work: UNSAFE. Right to Work: BAD DEAL."

Demonstrators also filled three overflow rooms, where they could watch the hearing on TV screens. According to the Senate's sergeant-at-arms, it was the biggest overflow crowd in his career at the Legislature.

The committee heard two hours of testimony – one hour for supporters, one hour for opponents. Union members and officers explained how the bill would hurt workers by weakening unions and making it easier for employers to drive down wages and benefits, fire workers without due process, and cut corners on safety and staffing.

Exposing the real goal: Business owners such as painting contractor Bob Swanson and electrical contractor Mark Draper said unions are vital business partners who provide the most skilled and productive workers.

Union members Jenny Lundgren, of Education Minnesota, and Andy Lindberg, of Carpenters Local 68, identified themselves as Republicans, and said the “right to work” proposal violates core conservative principles such as personal responsibility and getting something for nothing.

Police and fire officials said that without the power of collective bargaining, their forces could not fight to maintain adequate staffing and equipment, which endangers their members and the general public.

Council 5 president Mike Buesing said passing the amendment would result in Minnesota families earning thousands less each year, which “will hurt our economy, not help it.”

DFL senators point out flaws: Sen. John Marty called the proposal misleading in name and purpose, and said the real goal is to eliminate the ability of workers to organize and bargain collectively.

Sen. Barb Goodwin noted the proposal is part of the agenda of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), designed to weaken unions and make it more difficult for workers to protect themselves. She predicted the result would be the further destruction of the middle class.

Sen. John Harrington noted that unions have done far more than any other program to raise wages and improve treatment of women and people of color in the workplace.

Sen. Mary Jo McGuire called the proposal “another bad solution to a nonexistent problem.”

Busting the myths: Outside the hearing, AFSCME members made many of the same points. “It’s extremely misleading, which is what a lot of people don’t understand,” said Dana Hanson, of Hennepin County Human Services Local 34. “It’s our job to educate everybody and to educate our legislators, to let them know it is not a good thing for Minnesota.”

“It’s not a right to work,” said Bruce Halverson, another member of Local 34. “It’s a right to work for less, it’s a right to work without benefits. It's a right to let yourself be at the mercy of the employer’s will.”

“I drove here 85 miles to the capitol to secure our jobs, to secure our negotiating rights, to secure our wages, our standard of living, so that we don’t go way backwards, so we can work for Minnesota and do it in a dignified way,” said Darin Mahlow, a member of MnDOT Local 592 in Willmar.

“Union members are the only reason we have an 8-hour day, a 40-hour week, lunch breaks, vacation, health care, child care,” said Nancy McDaniels, a retired member of St. Paul Technical Local 1842. “And this right to work undermines all of that.”

“If it passes, I won’t have the right to organize,” said Lindsay Schwab, another member of Local 34. “I won’t have strength with my employer. We’ll be like Wisconsin.”

“We have to be here,” said Pam Jones, of Local 668 at the Metropolitan Council. “We don’t have a choice. We can’t let them take us down. We just can’t. That’s not acceptable. It’s wrong. It’s totally wrong. And we have to do it for future generations. I’m 59, I have two daughters. They have to know that I fought for them.”

“I don’t want to become like Wisconsin, where they take away our rights to bargain,” said Candi Parker, of Amalgamated State Local 2829. “We’re going to be screwed if that happens.”

“It’s a bad bill,” said Dennis Hill, of Metro MnDOT Local 221. “It needs to go away.”

When the committee adjourned, union members lined the hallway chanting “shame on you” and “we’ll be back.” ~AFSCME Council 5

Tell your state Senator to oppose the anti-middle class "Right to work" bill.