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Laid-off service workers could get recall protections

House Photography file photo
House Photography file photo

Service and hospitality workers laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic could be entitled the opportunity to return to their jobs if they reopen.

Sponsored by Rep. Andrew Carlson (DFL-Bloomington), HF39 would require large hotels; airport concessionaires; event centers; restaurants attached to hotels, airports and event centers; and other hospitality businesses to hire employees that were laid off during the pandemic before turning to new workers.

The bill would apply to employees who worked at least six months before Jan. 31, 2020, and would expire at the end of 2022.

It wouldn't require employees to accept positions, nor would it require an employer to reopen a business. But it would require that workers be notified when their positions reopen and — when positions are available but in smaller numbers — that qualifying employees be rehired based on qualifications and seniority.

Another provision would offer recall protections to laid-off employees if a business is sold.

The House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee voted Wednesday along party lines to approve the bill, as amended, and send it to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee. It has no Senate companion.

"This is really protecting people who have been on the job [and] through no fault of their own have gotten laid off," Rep. Kaela Berg (DFL-Burnsville) said. "… This is simply protecting what a worker has earned in times of need."

More than half of Twin Cities-area hospitality workers lost their jobs within a month of the COVID-19 pandemic's arrival in Minnesota last spring, Carlson said. While there has been some recovery, employment in the industry was still down 30% in October 2020 compared to the year before, he added.

He noted the burden has fallen hard on immigrants, women and people of color, who are more likely to work in hospitality.

"Without policy action, workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own could be left to face a challenging labor market already rife with racial disparities," the state hospitality union, UNITE HERE Local 17, said in a statement.

Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake), who voted against the bill, said it would nullify a state rule that allows employers to fire workers for any reason, provided the reason is legal.

He also doesn't think the bill is necessary and that the Legislature's focus should be on helping businesses reopen, noting the thousands of hospitality jobs that have been lost.

In a letter, Liz Rammer, president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, said the trade group worries that the bill would constrain the flexibility of its members during a financially challenging time.

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