Newspaper article

Lockouts Gain Momentum as Minnesota Employers Seek Upper Hand

Newspaper article

Lockouts Gain Momentum as Minnesota Employers Seek Upper Hand

Article excerpt

Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party is still a potent force in the political arena, but several labor union members have been locked out of their workplaces by employers who show little fear of a public backlash.

Minnesota Wild hockey phenomenon Zach Parise has been unable to pack fans into the Xcel Energy Center because of the National Hockey League lockout.

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians unanimously rejected a contract offer Wednesday, so management on Thursday canceled concerts through the end of the year. There aren't any signs that the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra or Minnesota Orchestra are close to ending their labor-management disputes.

Meanwhile, American Crystal Sugar workers have resorted to having their children scold company management on a video, because the 15- month lockout in the Red River Valley has devastated many families.

"We are in a period where we are moving towards an increased level of lockouts," John Budd, a University of Minnesota professor of work and organizations, said in a MinnPost interview.

"There is the potential for this to be the start of a significant trend," Budd said, citing the willingness of some employers to use the lockout strategy in challenging economic times.

Controlling timing

Labor unions attempt to time strikes when they can inflict the most financial harm, so employers will be forced to make better contract offers and seek a quick end to a strike.

"With a lockout, management is in control of the timing of the dispute," Budd said, which reduces labor's leverage.

In the political world, Minnesota historically has been considered a labor state, but only 15.1 percent of Minnesota workers belonged to labor unions last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, the union membership rate is 11.8 percent.

Those numbers are important because the vast majority of Americans don't think about private sector unions on a regular basis, although Budd pointed out that conservative activists have spent a lot of time attacking public sector unions.

We've watched Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and public sector employees engage in intense combat across the border, and we've seen Republican Minnesota legislators decrying the amount of tax dollars going to fund public employee salaries. …

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