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House passes omnibus labor policy bill likely destined for conference committee

Significant changes to labor law could be around the corner for Minnesota workers — particularly unionized educators.

As amended to substitute the House language, HF1522/SF1384* was passed 69-61 late Monday and sent back to the Senate. A conference committee will likely be needed to work out the differences.

However, the House brought their version of the contentious omnibus labor policy bill closer in line to the Senate’s during the floor debate, via the adoption of two amendments successfully offered by DFL representatives.

“It’s incredibly special and fitting to have passed our Labor and Industry Policy Bill on May Day, a day that commemorates the struggles and victories of the labor movement," Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said in a statement. "Today, we continue to fight for a world where all workers have the opportunity to thrive. We continue to fight for a world where workers are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions, and have access to quality healthcare. We deserve a world where workers are represented in government and have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. Today, we did right by all of Minnesota’s workers." 

Nelson and Sen. Jennifer McEwen (DFL-Duluth) are the bill sponsors.

While the differing bills touch on many areas of labor law, the most substantive provisions consist of updates to the Public Employment Labor Relations Act that governs collective bargaining and unionization rights in the public sector. It would be modified by:

  • requiring the dissemination of employee personnel data to public sector unions for several purposes, such as conducting elections and investigating grievances;
  • guaranteeing payment of state employee salaries and benefits in the event of a state government shutdown;
  • allowing payroll deduction for union dues and political fund contributions;
  • obligating employers to provide union representatives with contact information of and face-to-face time with both newly hired and all bargaining unit employees; and
  • enabling workplace unionization without going through the process of a formal election if over 50% of employees provide authorization for representation. 

Additional updates to this law would pertain specifically to public education, such as:

  • permitting unlicensed pre-K educators, Tier 1 K-12 teachers, and part-time professors in the Minnesota State system to join a union;
  • shortening the probationary period of newly hired K-12 teachers under various circumstances; and
  • placing “adult-to-student ratios in classrooms, student testing, and student-to-personnel ratios” under the “terms and conditions of employment” to be negotiated during collective bargaining.

Other notable provisions of the bill include:

  • prohibiting employers from compelling employee attendance at meetings that discuss religious matters, political issues, or arguments against unionization; 
  • banning restrictive franchise agreements, under which fast food restaurants and other chain businesses collude to not hire each other’s workers without the worker’s knowledge; and
  • establishing clear building and permitting standards for the construction of tiny homes by houses of worship to shelter the unhoused.

Republicans unsuccessfully offered a half-dozen amendments that would have deleted large swathes of the bill. Provisions targeted for removal included the expansion of public sector union access to employee contact information; the shortening of teacher probationary periods; and permitting teacher unions to negotiate student-to-personnel ratios.

Amendment supporters expressed concerns regarding worker data privacy rights and that the state would be unreasonably inserting itself into the collective bargaining process.

“We don’t need to be in those conversations. … What we do at the legislative level is we’re pushing our thumb on one side of the scale,” said Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls).

“Remember back to the pandemic when we called our public employees heroes. These heroes are simply asking for a voice on the job,” countered Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Mpls), sponsor of many of the proposed adjustments to PELRA.

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