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Corporate Attack on Minnesota Unions

January 26, 2012 By Jim Monroe, Guest Commentary

As the 2012 legislative session commences, the coordinated corporate attacks on public employees and unions will remain front and center throughout the next year. Corporations want to build on the electoral successes they experienced in 2010 and make sure that unions are weakened, and that pro-corporate legislators retain legislative majorities here in Minnesota.

The New York Times recently published an editorial, “Continuing Assault on Unions,” which was powerful for two reasons – first, it put the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC) in the spotlight as the conservative, corporate-sponsor of “right to work” legislation, and second, the editorial stated that conservatives across the country are promoting “right to work” laws to weaken unions for supporting democratic lawmakers.

Minnesota’s conservative legislative majorities have close to 30 ALEC members. What this means is that conservative, pro-corporate, anti-middle class special interests are well represented in St. Paul, while the middle class is regulated to minority status. With millions of dollars flowing into the state by conservative organizations and corporations this year, unions will have to fight hard to preserve their existence.

Over the last five years, according to information from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, ALEC corporate members spent $40.3 million in direct lobbying at the State Capitol. In 2012, ALEC’s corporate members want to see unions eliminated and the current conservative majorities retained. In their eyes, it’s good for business executives, but as we’ve seen it’s not necessarily good their employees or middle-class Minnesotans.

Senator Dave Thompson will carry the water for corporate special interests as he sponsors the “right to work” constitutional amendment, which uses deceptive language giving the impression that if you support unions you should vote for this amendment’s passage. In reality, supporting this amendment means the end of unions in Minnesota. Life under a “right to work” state means a cut in wages—an average of $5,333 annually—higher health care premiums, and the end of work place protections.

The “right to work” amendment actually eliminates workers’ rights at work. “Right to work” is a corporate assault on all workers. Many studies show that in “right to work” states compensation levels also drop for non-union employees as employers face competitive pressure to match union standards.

Corporate interest groups will claim that lower wages attract more businesses to a state. This is not true. A University of Notre Dame study found that the quality of a state’s workforce, not wages, was the decisive factor on determining location. The study also added that most companies looking for low wage workers are more likely to locate in China or other countries overseas.

Another ALEC-sponsored amendment will harm our quality of life in Minnesota and also threaten our public employee workforce. It’s called the Super-Majority Amendment. It requires a 60 percent super-majority in the Legislature to raise taxes. Currently, a simple majority is needed to increase revenue. State Representative Steve Drazkowski is chief sponsor of the bill along with House Speaker Kurt Zellers and State Representative Mary Kiffmeyer. Each legislator is an ALEC member, and this bill’s language is strikingly similar to ALEC’s model legislation.

Revenue limiting amendments shrink government by eliminating vital services. The super-majority amendment fits this requirement. The net effect will be a permanent state of “no new taxes.” At first, people might like this, but if you study the consequences, it is not good for Minnesotans. First, vital state services that all Minnesotans rely on will start to disappear. Second, paying for government will shift from income taxes to property taxes and fees – both very regressive taxes that hurt the middle class. Don’t be fooled, the GOP legislators who are in the pocket of corporate interests are not telling you the truth when they claim “no new taxes.”

The super-majority amendment will increase local property tax burdens to cover the costs of schools, firefighters, sewer, water and road repair as well as other public safety services. A similar revenue limiting amendment in Colorado caused so much economic damage to the state that republicans, democrats and business leaders filed a lawsuit to repeal the constitutional amendment. With such a shining example of Colorado’s failure, why would we want to amend our constitution with a failed experiment that lowers the quality of life for our citizens?

2012 will be a pivotal year for the survival of Minnesota unions and our quality of life. It won’t be easy, but we can fight back against national corporate interests. By getting involved, staying informed and taking action, we can stop corporate greed from ruining the middle class in our state.

Jim Monroe is the Minnesota Association of Professional Employee’s Executive Director.

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  • Carol Walsh says:

    January 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    It would be helpful to provide a link to the University of Notre Dame study Jim Monroe refers to in his opinion piece.