Bill Targets Companies Who Take Public Funds, Lock Workers Out
PHOTO: The lockout of American Crystal Sugar workers began in August 2011 over a contract dispute. New legislation from State Rep. Joe Atkins would require that any workers 'locked out' of their jobs get unemployment benefits for the duration of the lockout action.
March 6, 2013
ST. PAUL, Minn. - A bill that would provide protection to workers who have been "locked out" of their jobs in labor disputes is up for a hearing today at the State Capitol.
The legislation, HF 602, would extend unemployment benefits for the duration of a lockout and charge a penalty to an employer that initiates the action. The bill's lead author, Rep. Joe Atkins, D-South St. Paul, said the plan has bipartisan support.
"Both Democrats and Republicans are ticked off," he said. "Entities come in with big promises of job creation and stimulating the economy, and then take our money, only to turn around and do the exact opposite - lock people out, not let 'em work, cause unemployment to go up and unemployment benefits to skyrocket."
The Employer Lockout Accountability Act also would restrict public subsidies for certain organizations that engage in employee lockouts.
The legislation partially grew from one of the longest work stoppages in recent Minnesota history. The lockout of union workers for American Crystal Sugar has been going on since August 2011, but Atkins said the practice has become widespread.
"We've seen lockouts all over the place," he said, "from the high-profile ones like the Minnesota Wild to the chamber orchestras now - at St. Paul Chamber and the Minnesota Orchestra - to perhaps the worst one of all, which is the Crystal Sugar situation."
Among the groups that support the legislation is the Minnesota AFL-CIO. Its secretary-treasurer, Steve Hunter, said the impact from a lockout reaches well beyond those who are kept from working.
"Workers who aren't working aren't purchasing goods at their local merchants," he said. "Their kids are stressed out; they don't do as well at school. So, there's a community effect beyond just the workers themselves, and we think that, by ensuring some economic security for those workers, we can help mitigate those community effects as well."
Today's hearing on the Employer Lockout Accountability Act is in the House Labor Committee.
The bill's text is online at revisor.mn.gov.