Unions Sort out Wins, Losses in Legislative Session

Reposted from Workday Minnesota:Unions and other progressive organizations are sorting through the flurry of bills passed in the final days of the Minnesota Legislature’s 2015 session, including the likelihood of a special session on K-12 education funding.Education Minnesota (link is external), the union of 70,000 educators, described the legislation to increase K-12 and early education funding by $400 million over the next two years as “lackluster.” Governor Mark Dayton said he will veto the bill because it falls $550 million short of what he advocates and does not include provisions to create and fund a half-day, universal prekindergarten program.“A nearly $2 billion surplus gave the Legislature the rare opportunity to invest in children on a scale that would have improved the lives of generations of Minnesotans, but what passed the Legislature on Monday missed it,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said. “Now it appears Gov. Dayton will use his veto pen to give them another try.”The union is urging lawmakers to “do better than a formula increase that only limits layoffs. We can reduce class sizes and start to bring back art, music, world languages, physical education and other courses we’ve lost to cuts over the years. We can also give all families access to high-quality preschool, not just a targeted few. There’s still a huge surplus. If not now, when?”If Dayton vetoes the K-12 bill, he will need to schedule a special session of the Legislature to address the issue.While much of the public focus was on the rift over education funding, lawmakers quietly passed the most significant increase in long-term care support in 30 years.The measure, included in the nearly $13 billion health and human services budget, does not require a particular percentage of the payment increase to go to wages, but pay for long-term care workers is expected to go up.“For long-term care workers, especially in Greater Minnesota, the advocacy of front line staff and other supporters over the last few years paid off with record funding for this important work,” said Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota (link is external), one of several unions that represent long-term care workers.“Nursing homes in places like Crosby, Deer River, Balaton and more are going to see long overdue increases that should make huge impacts on the lives of workers and the patients they serve. Investing in the health and safety of Minnesotans is always a good investment, and we are proud that SEIU Healthcare Minnesota members fought so hard to make this a reality in the long-term care field.” The Minnesota Nurses Association (link is external) praised the Legislature for taking steps to prevent violence against workers in hospitals and other healthcare settings following a dramatic attack on staff at St. John's Hospital in Maplewood last November.

Under the new law, hospitals will be required to create and implement violence prevention plans."We saw a horrific event at St. John's," MNA President Linda Hamilton said. "The truth is nurses are assaulted in hospitals and nursing homes every day. They're pinched, hit, and kicked by patients and their families. We're glad to see efforts that will protect nurses and other healthcare workers from violence."
With the hard work of a coalition of organizations, a proposal to repeal MinnesotaCare was dropped. However, legislators added a provision imposing higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses on the 90,000 people who depend on MinnesotaCare for their health coverage.“These cuts will triple the out-of-pocket costs MinnesotaCare enrollees will have to pay, despite a $1.9 billion surplus as well as a surplus in the Health Care Access Fund,” said TakeAction Minnesota, (link is external) a coalition that mobilized its members against the cuts.“Forcing low-income Minnesotans to give up an entire week’s pay, an additional $433 a year in new costs, is bad policy. We ask Governor Dayton to use the state’s surplus to fix the $65 million in cuts to ensure MinnesotaCare families can continue to afford the care they need.”The Legislature’s failure to pass a comprehensive plan to fund transportation was a major disappointment for many Minnesotans, including a coalition of business, labor and community organizations that said such action was long overdue. See related article.Instead, lawmakers approved a “lights-on” bill that includes a one-time, $30 million increase for transit in Greater Minnesota, safety improvements at railroad crossings and road and bridge aid for the state’s smallest cities.Transportation will likely be on the agenda when the Legislature returns for its next session on March 8, 2016, but passage of a comprehensive plan with new funding is questionable, given that both the state House and Senate will be up for election next year.