According to a new report released by the AFL-CIO, Minnesota had the 8th lowest (and 42nd highest) rate of workplace deaths in 2019. This analysis, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that 80 working Minnesotans lost their lives due to on-the-job injuries, resulting in 2.6 deaths per hundred thousand workers.
Nationally in 2019, 5,333 working people were killed on the job and an estimated 90,000 died from occupational diseases. Each and every day, on average, 275 U.S. workers die from hazardous working conditions. The overall rate of fatal job injuries in 2019 was 2.8 per 100,000.
“This year’s report is yet another reminder of the dangers facing working people in Minnesota every single day, not to mention the increased risk of COVID-19 during 2020 and 2021. While Minnesota’s workplace death rate was comparatively low compared to other states, a single death on the job is one too many,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy. “Working people deserve better. We have a right to a safe workplace and a voice on the job. What’s more, we deserve leaders in St. Paul and Washington who will stand up for those rights.”
The report, titled “Death on the Job. The Toll of Neglect” marks the 30th year the AFL-CIO has produced its findings on the state of safety and health protections for workers within the United States. The report shows the highest workplace fatality rates are Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana, and West Virginia.
Other report highlights show that Latino workers are at increased risk of work-related deaths, with a fatality rate of 4.2 per 100,000 workers. Black workers are at an increased risk of work-related deaths, with a job fatality rate of 3.6 per 100,000 workers, a sharp increase from recent years. In 2019, 634 Black workers died— the highest number in more than two decades. Workers 65 or older have nearly three times the risk of dying on the job than all workers, with a fatality rate of 9.4 per 100,000 workers in 2019.
Fifty years ago, on April 28 the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect, promising every worker the right to a safe job. The law was won in 1970 because of the tireless efforts of the labor movement and allies, who drew major attention to work-related deaths, disease and injuries, organized for safer working conditions and demanded action from their government.
But today, due in part to the irresponsible anti-worker policies of the previous administration, OSHA’s meager resources have kept declining. Federal OSHA now has only 774 safety and health inspectors and state OSHA plans have a combined 1,024 inspectors—the lowest total number of OSHA inspectors since the creation of the agency. It would take federal OSHA 253 years to inspect all covered workplaces once.
Under President Trump, the political landscape and direction of the job safety agencies shifted dramatically from the Obama administration. President Trump ran on a pro-business, deregulatory agenda, promising to cut regulations by 70%. His administration aggressively sought to repeal or weaken many Obama administration rules. Through executive orders, legislative action, and delays and rollbacks in regulations, the Trump administration proposed to cut the job safety budget, rolled back workplace enforcement and weakened workers’ rights to safety protections. For the first two years of the administration, with Republicans in control of Congress, there was little oversight and only a limited ability to block these regulatory attacks and rollbacks. There was little action to address serious hazards like workplace violence, and no accountability or leadership of important agency work such as the infectious disease rulemaking that began in 2009. As a result, important safety and health protections were repealed or weakened.

From 2017 to 2019, job safety and health enforcement at both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) largely had been maintained, but in the fall of 2019, OSHA began reducing the number of inspections involving significant cases and complex hazards, and in the COVID-19 pandemic, was largely absent from workplaces where it has the authority and responsibility to enforce workplace safety laws. At both job safety agencies, the number of inspectors declined significantly; OSHA reached its lowest number of job safety inspectors since the early 1970s, when the agency opened, and MSHA began consolidating coal and metal/nonmetal inspectors into one. Just last year, the number of OSHA inspectors increased for the first time in years, but these figures remain low compared with previous years, and relative to the massive responsibility of the agency.

President Trump proposed cuts in in key worker safety and health programs in the budgets for FY 2018–FY 2021, seeking to cut funding for coal mine enforcement; eliminate OSHA’s worker safety and health training program and the Chemical Safety Board; and slash the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) job safety research budget by more than 40%. Congress rejected these proposed cuts, providing an OSHA budget that still only amounts to $3.97 to protect each worker.

The election of President Biden was critical to an improved federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to improving working conditions and reducing workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths. On his second day in office, he issued executive orders to launch a dedicated public health response to the pandemic, and to protect workers through job safety COVID-19 protections and enforcement. President Biden has appointed and nominated strong candidates focused on worker protection to lead job safety and health agencies and labor agencies. Immediately upon taking office, he appointed a longtime United Steelworkers (USW) safety and health leader, James Frederick, as acting assistant secretary for occupational safety and health. In April 2021, the Senate confirmed Marty Walsh as secretary of labor. With a background in the construction trades, Walsh is a strong worker advocate who has served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and as Boston mayor. In April 2021, President Biden nominated Doug Parker to be assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health—the head of OSHA. Parker is the current head of the California state OSHA program, served on the Biden-Harris transition team, served in chief policy roles at MSHA and was executive director of Worksafe—a nonprofit organization focused on workplace injury, illness and death prevention. John Howard continues to serve as the head of NIOSH. This is a sharp contrast to President Trump, who nominated corporate officials to head the job safety agencies—people who had records of opposing enforcement and regulatory actions.

The Democratic majority in Congress has improved the environment for occupational safety and health protections. In the 116th Congress, Democrats moved aggressively on a pro-worker agenda, introducing progressive legislation and conducting rigorous oversight of the Trump administration’s policies and programs—but pro-worker legislative progress stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, where it was difficult or impossible to move emergency public health measures. Now with a Democratic majority in both houses, Congress has focused on oversight of the nation’s COVID-19 response and protection as well as economic relief, and has been able to move on other bills that are critical to saving workers’ lives and livelihoods, such as those on workplace violence and improving workers’ right to organize unions.

Nearly five decades after the passage of the OSH Act, the toll of workplace injury, disease and death remains too high. There is much more work to be done.

The Cloquet City Council is reconsidering its decision to eliminate Project Labor Agreements on city projects.
Earlier in May, the council voted to eliminate PLAs in an effort to protect the city from lawsuits filed by the Christian Labor Association and other parties.
But at the May 18 meeting, Councilor Lamb invoked a rule that allows the body to reconsider a vote taken at the last meeting.
“After further investigation and discussion with the City of Duluth and some unions, I’d like us to reconsider the previous decision of repealing PLAs,” Lamb said.
After voting to reconsider, the council voted to table discussion on a revote until the next meeting, when all councilors would be present.
In January, the CLA filed suit against the cities of Duluth, Cloquet, and Two Harbors, and the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District and the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council, saying PLAs contain language that require nonunion companies to sign union agreements and other complaints.

The lawsuit prompted Cloquet and Two Harbors to revisit their PLAs.

The National Association of Building Trades Unions (NABTU) recommended removing union-security clauses in the agreements to eliminate the chances of them being interpreted overly broadly, but Cloquet and Two Harbors decided to eliminate PLAs altogether.

PLAs are routinely used on public works projects and help ensure those projects are completed on time, with skilled craftspeople and on budget. They also help keep taxpayer money in local communities.

The Duluth Central Labor Body will be screening candidates for city council before its monthly meeting on Thursday, June 10.
The screening will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Wellstone Hall in the basement of the Labor Temple.
If you have questions about the screening process, please contact Beth McCuskey at bmccuskey@hotmail.com.
The June CLB meeting will then begin in person at 6:30 p.m., in the Wellstone Hall.
Whatever covid rules are in effect will be followed at that time.

The 2021 legislative session came in like a lion and went out like a lamb.
When lawmakers first returned in January to hash out a new two-year budget, they faced a projected deficit of $883 million, a divided Legislature and a herculean vaccination effort that would shape the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a matter of months, Minnesota’s fortunes would drastically change, largely boosted by the federal American Rescue Plan Act that funneled billions of dollars into the state in the form of stimulus payments and federal aid to state and local government. The deficit swung to a $1.8 billion surplus with nearly $3 billion from the federal government helping shore up Minnesota state government.
On Monday, designated by law as the final day of the 2021 legislative session, DFL Gov. Tim Walz and leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-Farmer-Labor majority House announced a broad budget deal that focused solely on the numbers. They put off debate until later thorny policy issues like policing and tougher automobile emissions standards. They said they will return in a June special legislative session to finish the work. If they can’t figure out the fine print and pass the agreed upon broad outlines into law by June 30, a partial government shutdown begins.
Here are some takeaways from a legislative session unlike any other.

Status quo budget leaves no clear winners
Walz earlier this year unveiled a series of tax increases he said were necessary to address the state’s vast economic disparities worsened by the pandemic, including a new fifth tier income tax bracket on Minnesota’s wealthiest. He also proposed raising the corporate tax rate and other changes to the tax code.
House DFL leaders backed many of those tax proposals, sought to legalize recreational marijuana, and pass a number of new police reform and accountability measures.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, pursued a number of policy proposals, including Voter ID, a rollback of proposed tougher car emission standards and an end to Walz’s emergency powers he’s retained for a year to deal with the pandemic.
In the end, the final budget agreement included none of the controversial policy issues the two parties have been debating for months. It includes no new taxes, but it also increases education spending modestly and far above what Senate Republicans had sought. Walz, the DFL House and GOP Senate will have to push for their priorities another day.

The House Democrats’ leader said she was satisfied. “I would say we celebrate each other’s wins because there’s a lot of common ground,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. “I think that this is an agreement that serves all of us. I don’t think that there’s anything in the agreement that we, as House Democrats, don’t like.”
Federal aid props up state budget

Minnesota received more than $2.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding, which factors heavily in the $52 billion budget Walz and legislative leaders set.

Walz will get to control about $500 million of the federal aid as he manages the winding down of the state’s pandemic response. His administration has been coordinating the state’s vaccination program as it pushes to raise the state’s vaccination rate to 70%. The remainder of the federal money will be controlled by the Legislature, according to the budget agreement reached.

The hitch: The federal funding is all one-time money.

Once it’s spent, programs funded by the COVID-19 relief will disappear unless the Legislature acts to extend them. That includes summer school programming intended to address learning losses caused by the disruption to schools during the pandemic.
Police reform measures on the brink

Under the budget agreement, June 4 is the deadline to finalize language on any new policy changes that will need approval from both legislative leaders and the governor, leaving just 18 days for the House DFL and Senate GOP to bridge massive differences in efforts to approve new police reform measures.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Monday said his caucus would “remain committed to not passing anything that is anti-police or makes the job of law enforcement more difficult.”

He said he opposed proposals to end qualified immunity for police officers, which could make officers personally liable for civil rights violations that occur in the course of doing their work. He said he also opposes the creation of civilian oversight boards with investigative powers.

House Democrats, however, say the recent killing of Daunte Wright by ex-Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter demonstrates a need to end certain practices like so-called pretextual police stops. That’s when a person is pulled over for a minor violation with the intent to search their car for contraband — a practice that disproportionately affects Black Minnesotans and has led to deadly encounters like in the Wright case.

It’s unclear how a lack of police reform included in the final public safety budget bill would land with progressive members of the House DFL caucus, who previously withheld votes on a Walz proposal to pay for law enforcement costs during the Derek Chauvin murder trial.
Legislating by Zoom sucks the life out of Capitol

COVID-19 pandemic protocols meant that lawmakers worked mostly remotely for much of the session. With 134 members, the Minnesota House resembled a massive conference call when it met for floor sessions, with some state representatives at times forgetting to mute their lines, interrupting debates with unintended background noise. The Minnesota Senate, with only 67 members, was able to have more of its members on hand for floor debates, though many voted by proxy, their votes read into the record by colleagues.

“Weird,” is how state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, summed up the session.

The final day of the session was quiet. Few members attended in person, and there were no members of the public or lobbyists congregating in the hallways and rotunda to monitor the floor votes and share the latest political scuttlebutt.

Unlike previous budget-setting sessions, the Capitol was largely empty and sat behind a fence, which kept out the public. The fencing was installed to protect the Capitol from potential unrest last summer, as well as security threats in January from pro-Trump extremists who sowed chaos during an attempted insurrection in Washington, D.C. that included threats to many state capitols, including Minnesota’s.

Legislative leaders say the fencing will come down soon, and the public will be allowed in the Senate and House chambers next month.
Minority caucuses disappointed with outcome

The House GOP and the Senate DFL were not part of the final budget negotiations. That’s life in the minority party. On Monday, disappointment reigned among members of the minority caucuses.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, took aim at the agreement to let Walz control half a billion dollars in coronavirus relief funds.

“Who from the legislative branch would ever agree to let the governor spend $500 million on whatever he wanted should turn in their election certificates and find a new job,” Daudt said, in what could be interpreted as a veiled shot at his Republican colleague Gazelka.

Other House Republicans criticized a provision of the global budget agreement struck by Walz, Hortman and Gazelka, which says no policy provisions will be included in final budget bills without previous agreement from the governor.

“The governor now has to agree with all policy and finance prior to the bill being transmitted to him for signature or veto,” state Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, tweeted. That “makes the legislative branch irrelevant in many ways. His view on policy and finance bills is the veto if he disagrees.”

State Sen. Patrica Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, criticized Senate Republicans for the outcome of the session.

“I have never seen this in my last 15 years in the Senate,” she said. “The takeaway is that Minnesotans need to pay attention to the consequences of electing a divided Legislature. The political polarization in the state is restricting our ability to govern, and that needs to end.”

By Ricardo Lopez, Minnesota Reformer