ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Minnesota union members are watching the labor unrest in Wisconsin closely. And the head of the state’s 43,000-member public employees union says what’s happening in the Badger State is also headed for Minnesota.
Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, calls it a “deliberate plan” to break unions.
“This attack on unions and on working people emanates comes out of Washington, D.C.,” said Seide. “By extreme, cheap labor conservatives who want to pit public workers against private workers and drive down the wages and benefits of all workers.”
The Minnesota AFL-CIO has identified five separate bills they say are Republican attempts to break up unions, including cuts in wages and benefits to public workers and a “right to work” amendment to the Minnesota’s constitution.
But Minnesota Republican leaders say voters are fed up with what they say is public union benefits that private sector workers don’t have.
“Government employees have become the haves and the private sector the have-nots,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa. He is the author of the “right to work” bill.
“And now it’s being challenged. It’s being challenged because we can’t afford the types of Cadillac versions of pensions, of health insurance and even salaries,” said Drazkowski.
Hundreds of union members — public and private — protested at the State Capitol on Wednesday denouncing what they called “anti-union” bills.
One target is an effort by Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, to cut the size of Minnesota’s state employee workforce by 5,000.
Some protesters were inflamed by the Republican descriptions of public worker cuts as “starving the beast” of government.
During the rally, Mike Lindholm, a state snowplow driver, drew cheers.
“As you can see, I’m not a beast,” said Lindholm. “I’m your friend. Your neighbor. Your snowplow driver.”