State Fed highlights priorities during pandemic

The Minnesota AFL-CIO released a letter Thursday it had sent to Gov. Tim Walz, shortly after the governor had signed Emergency Executive Order 20-07, which effectively suspended some collective bargaining rights for state employees, and other executive actions.

The letter, signed by President William McCarthy and Secretary-Treasurer Bradley Lehto, included a list of emergency policy priorities to protect working people as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds and in the months to come.
“On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) further weakened its guidance on measures to contain COVID-19. These changes include, among other things, rolling back personal protective equipment (PPE) standards from N-95 respirators to allow simple surgical masks. Now is not the time to be weakening our standards or cutting corners. If nurses and health care workers aren’t protected, patients and the public are not protected,” the letter read

The fed recommended that the Minnesota Legislature require hospitals to follow stricter guidelines for PPE standards and require, at the least, N-95 respirators for all health care workers. “The state should also provide sufficient PPE for firefighters, many who do not have enough protective gear to safely first respond to emergencies. Home care workers interacting with COVID-19 positive clients unable to seek outside medical care should also be provided with appropriate PPE.”

The letter also urged measure to ensure adequate protections and supplies for workers in fast food, janitorial, retail, airport, and transportation settings. Please consider measures to ensure these workers have adequate protections and supplies to do their jobs safely.

While the governor expanded unemployment insurance eligibility and clarified requirements, the fed pointed out that those with lower incomes will struggle with only partial wage replacements. It urged consideration of full wage replacements and extending benefits an additional 26 weeks, relief for those who are misclassified as independent contractors, who have no paid sick days or benefits, or are ineligible for unemployment insurance.

The letter also:

  • called for the passage of SF4369/HF4415, which requires districts to pay hourly workers if school buildings are closed.
  • called for a policy of three weeks of Emergency Paid Time Off paid for by employers and provided to all workers, no exceptions, in addition to any benefits they may have in the workplace.
  • signing a bonding bill that serves as an economic stimulus package.
  • maintaining labor standards through the crisis. “Emergencies shouldn’t be an excuse to relax labor standards. Do not allow rollback of any labor rights or protections, including but not limited to wage theft law, child labor laws, tip penalty, preemption, prevailing wage agreements, occupational licensure standards.

Earlier this week, the governor had announced that some collective bargaining rights for state employees had been suspended. The justification read:

“I also have concluded that to protect the health and safety of Minnesotans and minimize the impact of the peacetime emergency on government operations, state agencies require the flexibility to hire staff, schedule, assign, and reassign employees without adherence to existing limitations in collective bargaining agreements, memoranda of understanding, compensation plans, statutes, administrative rules, administrative procedures, and policies that present barriers to the needs of state agencies to efficiently and effectively mobilize and deploy their workforce during this peacetime emergency. When circumstances allow, Minnesota Management and Budget will work in partnership with the labor unions affected by any adjustments to the provisions of collective bargaining agreements or memoranda of understanding.”

AFSCME Council 5 and MAPE responded to the executive order in a joint statement:

At a time when unparalleled actions to this pandemic have become the norm, we must also recognize the magnitude of Executive Order 20-07, which includes the waiving of select collective bargaining agreement provisions. These provisions represent decades of hard work and progressive governance, and this is a serious action taken in a time that requires bold leadership. We won’t stand in the way of the state’s powerful response to this crisis, but we won’t idly sit by if that power is abused. We have worked with the State to put a system in place to ensure these changes are used only to respond to COVID-19. Our job as a union is to make sure that during this worldwide crisis, Minnesota workers are still protected and safe at work. 

During this crisis, MAPE and AFSCME have been able to protect wages, hours, benefits and other working conditions. Including:

  • Guaranteed paid leave will be extended to all executive branch agency staff (Minnesota Statute 2019, section 43A.02, subdivision 22) who must be absent from work due to COVID-19 in order to care for themselves and their children due to school closures for the duration of the Governor’s Emergency Executive Order 20-01. 
  • The 35-day waiting period for new executive branch employees to be eligible for insurance has been suspended. All state executive branch employees with less than 35 days of service will now be eligible for health insurance coverage. 

In response, the Inter-Faculty Organization (IFO) stated that:

The IFO, in coalition with other public employee unions, has asked for a public commitment by State employers to work with union representatives to swiftly and fairly address issues that arise as a result of this executive order. We also have requested that Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) emphasize in their internal communications with State agencies that these powers are to be exercised exclusively for dealing with COVID-19. As your Union, the IFO is committed to ensuring adherence to this principle.

Filiberto Nolasco Gomez of WorkdayMinnesota contributed to this article.

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