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Labor committee passes $100 million budget bill along party lines

Strengthened wage theft protections for construction workers? Yes. Proposed regulations of rideshare companies? Not yet ready for primetime.

Those were the judgments on the major drivers of debate in the House Labor and Industry Finance and Policy Committee Thursday.

Following the adoption of a delete-all amendment, the committee approved HF2755 on an 8-5 party line vote, sending the omnibus labor and industry finance bill to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), the committee chair, successfully offered an amendment to include HF1859 in the omnibus bill. It would attempt to combat wage theft in the construction industry by holding general contractors civilly liable for malfeasance committed by their hired subcontractors.

The committee also approved two additional amendments. Rep. Emma Greenman (DFL-Mpls) made tweaks to the proposed Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board, and Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud) raised the threshold of new meatpacking regulations to only apply at workplaces of 100 or more employees.

In contrast, Rep. Samakab Hussein (DFL-St. Paul) brought forth an amendment to insert HF2369, which would create a novel regulatory framework of Uber and Lyft in Minnesota. Hussein gave a passionate speech of the need to do right by these workers and improve their wages and working conditions, similar to what is being proposed for other industries in the omnibus bill. But he conceded work remains on fine-tuning the language of the measure before withdrawing his amendment.

Nelson assured Hussein he wants to “make sure we do this right,” and stated his intention to hear the proposed regulations in a stand-alone bill next week.

Rep. Andrew Myers (R-Tonka Bay) attempted to remove numerous sections via two unsuccessful amendments of his own. One would strip out language tying increases of fines levied by the Department of Labor and Industry to inflation, while the other would strike the expansion of a worker’s right to sue their employer for violating newly proposed labor standards.

While the bill is ultimately a finance bill that appropriates nearly $100 million to governmental authorities, Republican opposition honed in on policy provisions.

Rep. Shane Mekeland (R-Clear Lake) took strong exception to the anti-wage theft initiative, while Rep. Isaac Schultz (R-Elmdale Township) questioned the late-arrival of an ergonomics safety program, noting the committee never heard testimony on a proposal that would have huge ramifications on multiple industries.

Notable appropriations found in the omnibus include:

  • $30.91 million for the Workers’ Compensation fund, an increase of nearly 25% from the last biennium;
  • almost $7.5 million for the Bureau of Mediation Services, a 36.2% bump up;
  • $3.6 million for instituting the ergonomics safety program;
  • $3.2 million for prevailing wage enforcement, a 94% boost;
  • Over $1.2 million in grant monies for Building Strong Communities, Inc., including $456,000 for the Helmets to Hardhats Minnesota initiative;
  • $963,000 for a newly established Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board; and
  • $544,000 for outreach and enforcement related to updates of the Women’s Economic Security Act.

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