Workers in Minnesota are about to see the fruits of years of organizing and building power across the state. A sweeping package of labor reforms has passed both the Minnesota House and Senate and was signed by Governor Tim Walz on May 24.
Some of the provisions included in this Labor Omnibus Bill are paid sick and safe days for nearly every worker across the state; a nursing home labor standards board with the power to set minimum pay; a major shift in the construction industry, which makes general contractors liable for wage theft committed by subcontractors on their job sites; the banning of noncompete agreements; and changes which allow teachers’ unions to negotiate class sizes as part of collective bargaining agreements.
Also included are two changes which are worth highlighting: one requires that companies like Amazon disclose their dangerous and punitive quota systems to workers, and the second bans captive audience meetings.
Workers at Amazon warehouses in Minnesota are more than twice as frequently injured on the job than workers in other industries in the state. This is due to the back-breaking pace, which is enforced by a punitive system whereby workers are constantly scrambling to meet fulfillment goals — the actual numbers of which they are not even told — or risk being fired.
Under this new bill, companies like Amazon will be required to disclose to workers any quotas that could result in their being fired if not met. This law will open the door to workers negotiating for more reasonable quotas and a safer pace of work, and is the product of years of Amazon workers organizing to take on Amazon’s harmful and hyper-exploitative labor practices.
The second major reform is the effective ban on captive audience meetings — mandatory meetings at which bosses spread anti-union propaganda and attempt to discourage any ongoing or future unionization efforts by their workers. Since these meetings are mandatory — something currently allowed by the National Labor Relations Board — workers can be disciplined or even fired for not attending.
Captive audience meetings are a powerful and frequently-used tool that tips the scale in favor of employers. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that “89% of employers faced with union drives held captive audience meetings, each averaging more than 10 meetings per year, with 75% hiring management consultants to discourage employees from organizing. The research shows that when captive audience meetings have been used, the union’s election win rate dropped by 26%.”
This new legislation prohibits employers from firing or punishing employees in any way for refusing to attend such meetings, and is anticipated to drastically improve the landscape for future union organizing in the state. Minnesota will now become only the third state to ban captive audience meetings. The second, Connecticut, which passed its ban in 2022, is facing a lawsuit over the law led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
This lawsuit is only one example of how bosses are fighting back against organizing attempts by workers. While in Minnesota workers have secured huge victories, in other states capitalists have pushed to loosen child labor laws. The Federal Reserve continues to try and suppress wages. Corporations such as Starbucks have fought tooth and nail — frequently in violation of labor law — to defeat union drives at their stores.
Nonetheless, workers are continuing to build power. Over the last few years we have witnessed a surge in unionization across the country, with polls finding that 71% of people in the United States now view unions favorably — the highest rate since 1965.
More favorable conditions for workers are not an accident of history, just as concessions from the capitalist class — such as those included in this Minnesota bill — are not granted without a fight. In Minnesota, it took years of organizing and collective action at Amazon facilities in order to set the stage for defeating Amazon at the statehouse over this bill. Workers staged rallies and walkouts raising demands for wage increases and time off for religious holidays, like Eid for Muslim workers, and began organizing for a union this past winter. Unions such as the Minnesota Nurses Association and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers have demonstrated their strength in recent years with strikes, helping pave the way for pro-union measures such as the ban on captive audience meetings.
As workers in Minnesota have demonstrated, when we fight, we win!