On February 6, 2012, republican senators David Hann and Dave Thompson in the Minnesota State Senate introduced legislation that would allow Minnesota voters to vote on whether to amend the state constitution to make Minnesota a “right to work” state. In a right-to-work state, employees may not be compelled to become a union member or pay union dues.
Currently, Minnesota employees have the right not to join a labor union, but they may still be required to pay “fair share” dues to cover the cost of collective bargaining. If the amendment passes, it will be unlawful for any employer or union to require non-union employees to pay fair share dues. Twenty-three other states have similar right-to-work laws.
If the legislation passes, Minnesota voters will be asked to vote on the following question during the November 2012 election:
Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to guarantee all citizens the individual freedom to decide to join or not join a labor union, and to pay or not pay dues to a labor union?
If a majority of Minnesota voters vote yes, the Minnesota Constitution will be amended to provide, in relevant part, as follows:
No person shall be required as a condition of obtaining or continuing public sector or private sector employment to: (1) resign or refrain from membership in, voluntary affiliation with, or voluntary financial support of a labor organization; (2) become or remain a member of a labor organization; (3) pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind or amount, or provide anything else of value, to a labor organization; or (4) pay to any charity or other third party an amount equivalent to, or a portion of, dues, fees, assessments, or other charges required of members of a labor organization. An agreement, contract, understanding, or practice between a labor organization and an employer that takes force or is extended or renewed after adoption of this section and that violates this section is unlawful and unenforceable.
Employees affected by a violation of the provision will be entitled to bring a civil action for damages, injunctive relief, or both. Prevailing plaintiffs will also be entitled to an award of costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
Neither the Minnesota Senate nor the House of Representatives has voted on the proposed legislation yet, so it is not yet clear whether the proposed amendment will be on the ballot for the November 2012 election. If the legislation passes and the constitutional amendment is approved by a majority of voters, it will be a significant change for unionized employers and labor unions in Minnesota.