Working Minnesotans need more from our lawmakers – Park Rapids Enterprise

No matter where we live, what we look like, or what we do for a living, working people everywhere are demanding better pay, safer workplaces, more time with family and politicians who will stand with us.

When the Minnesota Legislature gaveled into session earlier this year, we had high hopes that lawmakers were ready to deliver for working Minnesotans. Within the first few days, both chambers passed bipartisan legislation reestablishing rules to make health care workers and first responders who have tested positive for COVID-19 eligible for workers’ compensation benefits based on the presumption they contracted the virus from work.

Since then, progress for working Minnesotans has ground to a halt. As lawmakers head into the legislative session’s final stretch, it’s time to end the political posturing and deliver for all working Minnesotans.

The first thing legislators can do is finish the job from last year and reward the frontline workers who got us through the pandemic. Minnesotans relied on frontline workers like never before to care for COVID patients, stock grocery shelves, pack meat, care and educate our children, drive buses and so much more.

Many of these workers are more likely to have lower wage jobs and are disproportionately people of color, who face some of the worst economic disparities in the state.

While no amount of money can fully repay what they have been through, including quarantining without pay, Minnesota should acknowledge all frontline workers’ contribution by allocating $1 billion of the more than $9 billion surplus to give each worker a $1,500 bonus.

The DFL-led House has passed the legislation and Gov. Walz has committed to signing it. Sadly, the Republican-led Senate continues to stall, lowball the amount, exclude certain workers and make excuses for not doing right by workers.

While Minnesota’s record-low unemployment rate is certainly good news, working Minnesotans need higher paying jobs to keep up with increased costs. Thanks to the recently passed federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, our own state and local investments in roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure in our communities would mean federal matching funds to create tens of thousands of family-sustaining union construction jobs in every corner of the state while giving more Minnesotans a voice at the jobsite.

Gov. Walz proposed a robust local jobs and projects bill earlier this year and we’re encouraged to see both the House and Senate beginning to move. With an expected interest rate increase coming, lawmakers shouldn’t delay in passing an infrastructure bill as soon as possible.

Even before the pandemic, workers have long needed the freedom to care for themselves and the people they love without having to sacrifice a paycheck. As the pandemic changed so much about work and home life, the need for and importance of taking time off work to care for a serious health condition, that of a loved one or to bond with a new child has only increased. While some workers have access to paid leave, countless more, especially lower wage workers and workers of color, still don’t have this freedom.

Minnesotans widely support paid family and medical leave for all working people. Gov. Walz and Democrats listened and made creating a state paid family and medical leave program a top priority this year.

Republicans even acknowledged this popularity by proposing their own, albeit unworkable, paid leave ideas.

An investment from the budget surplus will allow us to kickstart a program that can immediately begin delivering for working people. We hope Senate Republicans will understand that Minnesotans of all political persuasions value time with their loved ones and stop opposing the paid family and medical leave bill.

The clock is ticking for lawmakers to come together and deliver for working Minnesotans. As the shared voice of Minnesota’s union members, the Minnesota AFL-CIO will be watching these final weeks closely.

The entire Legislature is up for election this year. With one of the largest independent electoral field programs in the state, we will make sure union members know who supports us and who is standing in the way of progress.


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