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Public Works, Smaller Organizing Tied to More Union Activity in MN

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Thursday, January 27, 2022   

The past year saw American workers reassessing their jobs. However, those shifts did not result in higher union membership at the national level, now back at previous lows.

Minnesota labor leaders say at the state level, the numbers are a little more promising, with 16% of working Minnesotans part of a union, up slightly from the previous year, and the state's highest level in 14 years.

Bill McCarthy, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, said apart from more unionized workers being hired for infrastructure projects, there is a growing sense younger workers want their voices heard.

"Whether it's wages or benefits or whatever the case may be, they just want to have a say in that," McCarthy explained.

Not all the organizing is being driven by staff at large employers such as manufacturers. Grocery workers and restaurant staff are formalizing plans to establish unions, and gains are being seen in health care. Despite more activity, experts say laws still make it difficult for these groups to overcome barriers in reaching their goals to successfully bargain.

Labor leaders argued it is why Congress needs to give final approval to the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which is opposed by Senate Republicans and business groups.

Aaron Sojourner, a labor economist at the University of Minnesota, said while the state's latest uptick represents a small difference, he said there is a taste for change within the labor force.

"Through the pandemic, they had the rules of their jobs scrambled and the rules of their lives scrambled," Sojourner pointed out.

He noted some workers felt accommodated, but many others did not, and while existing laws might prevent roadblocks to organizing, Sojourner added workers have a lot of leverage right now with so many open jobs, as well as strong public backing.

Disclosure: Minnesota AFL-CIO contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Civil Rights, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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