Senator Erik Simonson: Why preemption is an anti-worker bill

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Minnesota workers began to rise up against the iron fist of large companies that took advantage of them. In realizing the power of their numbers – they were able to fight for better working conditions, fewer hours and higher wages. The labor union has strong and deep roots in our state – and I want to thank them for standing up and fighting hard against a sinister bill this year that attempted to undermine all workers across the state and the progress we’ve fought for along the way.

The preemption bill was passed by the Minnesota House and Senate on largely party lines earlier this legislative session. Republican leaders sat alongside the Minnesota Chamber all session long as they championed the bill as good for business. But thanks to organized labor, many locally elected mayors and city council members and most importantly Governor Dayton, preemption was left out of the final budget bill, in the final hours of session, preserving local control and worker protections across the state.

The reason labor and DFLers are so vehemently opposed to preemption is because it’s anti-worker and anti-local control. This law blocks cities, counties and other forms of local government from creating rules and regulations that conflict with those of the state. They typically affect labor standards – things like wages, time off (whether paid or unpaid), benefits, and general working conditions.

Duluth has recently joined other cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul in investigating how a paid sick and safe time policy could work for the city. The city council last year directed that a task force be created to study the issue and come back with recommendations. This is how local government should work. Locally elected city leaders are the most knowledgeable and best equipped to make decisions that affect the citizens in their communities. I was worried that if preemption was signed into law, all of Duluth’s efforts would all be for naught – meaning just under half of all workers in Duluth would be left without access to paid time off to take care of loved ones or care for themselves when sick.

But this bill is not simply about respecting the knowledge and power of the local government. Chief of Staff Brad Lehto from the Minnesota AFL-CIO Labor Union put it this way:

The preemption bill is really about corporations preventing cities and towns from protecting workers’ health and safety. We should not want workers in a restaurant going to work sick and handling food.  We should not want sick nursing home workers caring for our loved ones.  Workers should not have to live in poverty.

Lahto continues with a refrain we’ve heard often from those opposed to preemption. He says, “When the federal and/or state government doesn’t respond to workers and communities in which they live, then local government has the right to act. Preemptions bills prohibit local democracy. It is important to remember that local democracy is not about metro versus greater Minnesota but is really about allowing local governments to respond to the needs of their residents.”

Exactly. That is the crux of this issue. In a democracy you have several layers of elected officials – but they are all elected by the people. In my opinion, we as state legislators have no business stripping power away from cities and counties who want to do right by their citizens. But we also shouldn’t be standing in the way of protecting workers.

I believe that everyone in this state deserves a better life. That everyone deserves to be able to stay at home and heal when they are sick. That we all deserve a safe home, and no one should have to live in poverty.

All of these issues are tied up into preemption. As a state that has recognized the power of workers for more than a century – I’m very proud of our collective efforts this year to defeat preemption. But let us remain vigilant, this is a bill that won’t go away anytime soon.


This column was first published in Labor World.

Erik Simonson represents District 7 in northeastern Minnesota.

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