Legislative Republicans announced another controversial constitutional amendment drive on Thursday.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, proposed an amendment that is known as the "right to work" and the "employee freedom" amendment. In essence, it allows workers in unionized workplaces to decide whether or not to remain outside the union, and to avoid paying dues.
The proposal must go to the House and Senate, which both have Republican majorities. If approved, it goes to the voters in November as an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution. Republicans have already put a gay-marriage ban amendment on the ballot and are talking about several others, including limits on or barriers to tax hikes and additional spending.
The Republican majority in the Legislature is up against DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, a labor supporter who strongly opposes "the right to work" and would not sign it into law, as Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels did this week. Sending the issue to the voters takes Dayton out of the equation, because while he could veto "right to work" as a bill, he has no authority to block the issue being submitted to voters as a constitutional amendment.
That is how Republican majorities put the anti-gay-marriage amendment on the ballot last year.
It is not clear that this proposal has sufficient support in both houses to make it onto the ballot. But the sponsors said it is a matter of economic freedom. "In Minnesota law, if a worker refuses to pay union dues, they are fired," Drazkowski said in a statement. "This isn't fair and it's definitely not free."
He and Thompson said making Minnesota the nation's 24th "right to work" state would convince more employers to move to Minnesota and expand in the state.
The issue is what is known as a "union shop," in which membership is a condition of employment for most workers. The Republican legislators would ask voters to decide whether the state constitution should be amended "to guarantee all citizens the individual freedom to decide to join or not to join a labor union, and to pay or not pay dues to a labor union?"
If approved, a new section of law would be added to state statutes, stating that any "agreement, contract, understanding or practice" between a union or an employer that requires union membership and dues would be illegal. It would apply to both private and public employment. Thompson said, however, that doing away with required membership and dues "in no way changes collective bargaining in Minnesota."
DFL legislators said the long-term effect of "right to work" legislation is to weaken the hand of unions and drive down wages. Sen. Ken Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, who is a retired union carpenter who also worked as an agent for the carpenters' union. He said most traditional right-to-work states have a higher percentage of poverty, a worse education system and more citizens on public assistance.
"It's another attack on working folks to help the rich folks," Kelash said.