Duluth’s Labor Day picnic, an essential stop for stumping candidates and a staple for anyone who likes free beer and corn-on-the-cob on a late-summer afternoon, will not be held this year. Pandemic restrictions and economic uncertainty make for difficult planning, and the general agreement is that trying to hold a picnic at this time would not be feasible.
ST. PAUL — State lawmakers came back to the Capitol for a special session beginning June 12. Eight days later, the legislature adjourned without passing key legislation urged by the state’s labor movement, including a jobs bill left undone from the regular session and a new package of police accountability reforms proposed in the wake of the George Floyd murder by Minneapolis police.
The leaders of both the DFL-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate cast blame on the other party for failing to reach agreements and advance legislation.
But it was the Senate which insisted on a firm adjournment date of June 19.
At a media availability at 12 noon that day, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) expressed her willingness to continue the special session. “If they would just stay a few more days, we could get something done… This work is too important to walk away from right now.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) countered: “We’re not days away from some of the requests the House wanted; we are a session away. There’s a lot of desire the House has, and I understand why, but I thought that in a special session that we would be able to do some significant things.”
The Minnesota AFL-CIO commented on Facebook: “We are deeply disappointed that Senate Republicans have decided to adjourn the legislature without agreement on an infrastructure bonding bill or police accountability and reform.”
For the special session, the legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous Caucus had proposed a significant package of police accountability reforms after the massive protests which rocked the Twin Cities in response to George Floyd’s death. The package passed the House but the Senate majority offered a much more modest alternative that failed to address the concerns of the POCI bills.
In the end, no new police reforms were enacted — a result which drew national media attention.
“The people of Minnesota should be deeply disappointed,” commented Governor Tim Walz. “This was a failure to move. A failure to engage. Those tens of thousands of Minnesotans who raised their voice were not telling us to think small.”
Building Trades unions expressed deep frustration with the legislature’s failure to pass a bonding bill.
“Adjourning the special session without passing an infrastructure bill is unacceptable. This is a devastating outcome for working Minnesotans,” commented Joel Smith, president and business manager of Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota.
“We are disappointed Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and the Senate Republican Caucus unnecessarily chose to end without getting the job done,” Smith said. “We are profoundly disgusted by Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and the House Republican Caucus for recklessly preventing the creation of 45,000 construction jobs in the last 13 months — at a critical time when we need to meet the need for infrastructure, keep Minnesotans working and stimulate our economy.”
Going in to the special session, the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council outlined the need for passing a bonding bill: “There are currently proposals for over $2 billion in unmet needs for construction across our state. This level of economic investment can put thousands of Minnesotans to work. A balanced approach to funding building, water and road infrastructure will allow the state to maximize its bonding power to provide on-going economic stimulus to the areas of our state that will need it the most.”
“A strong state bonding package… can serve as part of a COVID-19 and community recovery plan for Minnesota,” the State Building Trades Council urged.
SEIU Healthcare Minnesota had hoped to see the special session pass a temporary 15 percent COVID emergency pay increase for personal care attendants. The measure was included in a COVID relief bill passed by the House 77-55, with two Republicans voting with the Democratic majority. But the Senate did not act.
Saturday, June 20, “the Senate adjourned at 6:05 a.m., choosing to end the special session without getting anything done on bonding, police reform, or other major issues of importance to working Minnesotans,” reported Melissa Hysing, legislative director for the Minnesota AFL-CIO.
Operating Engineers Local 139 has been barnstorming the upper Midwest, following Sunbelt Rentals as the rental company serves contractors and job sites. Recently, the local brought the Fat Cat to Superior at the Central Flats development to call attention to its complaint.
“Anywhere we see their equipment, we show up,” said Mike Ervin, organizing director for Local 139. “We go everywhere we see their equipment, and the bottom line is to maximize our message with the public. It’s not about the contractor or the developer, just Sunbelt Rentals.”
Local 139 was certified in 2018 to serve as the bargaining representative for employees, and Ervin said that after negotiations began, the local felt that the employer wasn’t bargaining in good faith. “They would only meet once a month, and there were captive meetings,” he said. “They didn’t seem as interested to come to an agreement as we were.”
In March 2019, the local filed charges for bad-faith bargaining and started handbilling and bannering. In May of this year, an administrative law judge ruled in favor of the local, but the education campaign continues, Ervin said, as Sunbelt appeals the decision.
“We’re asking the public to show support to workers,” he said. He stressed that the complaint is with Sunbelt only, and that contractors were not being targeted at all. “We’re just trying to call attention to the fact that it’s about Sunbelt.”
ST. PAUL — Five months after the Coronavirus first arrived in the U.S., critical supply shortages persist for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including masks and gowns.
The continuing risks faced by health care workers and the continuing shortages of PPE led the Minnesota Nurses Association to join other organizations in urging Governor Tim Walz to continue his exercise of emergency powers.
In a June 10 letter to Walz, MNA president Mary Turner, R.N., wrote:
“As a representative of over 22,000 nurses primarily in the state of Minnesota, the Minnesota Nurses Association encourages you and lawmakers to extend the peacetime state of emergency that has allowed and would continue to allow the emergency response of the administrative branch to monitor and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to plague us.”
“While much has changed for ordinary citizens over the last few months, nothing has changed for nurses and healthcare workers in our state. Nurses are still being forced to wear the same, single use mask for hours after they’ve been contaminated, use the same mask between COVID patients and non COVID patients, and rely on unproven sanitizing procedures (i.e. infrared cleaning and paper bags) to assure them and their patients that their equipment is safe. Nurses are still being disciplined or fired over the use of hospital scrubs.”
“Nurses are still bringing the COVID virus home to their families and into the community because of a lack of precautions taken by health care facilities. As a result, healthcare workers are still one of the occupations most at risk for becoming infected, which at last check was still above 10 percent of all cases. Many of these workers are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, who work the essential and unprotected jobs in healthcare facilities from nurses’ aides to environmental services.”
“Without the peacetime emergency, Governor Walz and [the Minnesota Department of Health] will not be able to further address these issues, make recommendations on pre-crisis standards for healthcare workers or ‘turn back the dial’ as necessary when there is a resurgence of cases and we run out of healthcare workers, equipment and hospital beds to care for COVID patients.”
Two days after MNA’s letter, on the first day of the legislature’s recent special session, Governor Walz issued an executive order to extend the COVID-19 peacetime emergency until July 13.
The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate voted 39-29 (with three DFL votes) to prevent the extension.
But the DFL-controlled Minnesota House voted 73-61 to support the extension, allowing it to continue. (A majority vote in both Senate and House was needed to block the peacetime emergency).