AgriGrowth Policy Update 3.4.21

March 4, 2021

AgriGrowth Testifies on Meat and Poultry Processing Workers Legislation

Earlier this week, AgriGrowth Executive Director Tamara Nelsen testified before the House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee in opposition to House File 800, introduced earlier this session by Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL – St. Cloud).
Wolgamott stated that the “Minnesota Safe Workplaces for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers Act” would protect meat and poultry processing workers from COVID-19 and future pandemics, as well as address other issues of worker safety at plants.

The proposed legislation defines affected workers as workers involved in the direct handling of raw meat.
As written, HF 800 would:

  • Require paid leave for all meat and poultry processing workers to recuperate from an illness, injury or to care for an ill family member
  • Create a new “Workers’ Rights Coordinator'' position at the Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) dedicated to enforcement and compliance
  • Require employers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) at no cost, allow meat and poultry processing workers adequate break time to sanitize and wash hands, and routinely clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces, workstations, and training rooms
  • Equity-centered worker protections included in the bill would prohibit employers from discriminating or taking an adverse employment action against a worker, including the threat of reporting a worker's current or suspected immigrations status, and require employers to post these rights and training manuals in the language of fluency for workers every year

AgriGrowth’s opposing testimony emphasized that our members’ words and actions clearly demonstrated their number one priority is the safety, health, and wellbeing of their employees and noted the pre and post-pandemic measures taken immediately to protect workers. Nelsen closed by reaffirming that the agri-food is Minnesota’s second largest economic driver and that our industry’s response to COVID-19 was critical as food outlets rapidly shifted for millions of consumers.
The bill was passed on an 8-5 party line vote and was referred to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee. The Senate companion bill was introduced earlier this week and has not been scheduled for a hearing.

State Projects $1.6 Billion Surplus for FY2022-23

Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) officials announced last week that there is now an estimated $1.6 billion surplus for the FY 2022-23 budget. This number is up dramatically from the $1.3 billion deficit that was previously projected in November.

According to MMB, the economic turnaround was due to the overall U.S. economic outlook improving, as well as economic pandemic relief legislation that was not included in the November forecast. The February forecast reflects the impact of two rounds of federal pandemic relief  including the $900 billion package Congress passed in December and the $1.5 trillion of additional pandemic relief from a proposal that Congress is considering now, and that state economists expect to be enacted by mid-March.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R – Nisswa) indicated that the surplus should be used to help small business impacted by the pandemic and that there is no reason to increase taxes this session. His remark was in response to what Gov. Tim Walz has proposed in his $52.4 billion state budget for the upcoming two-year biennium that was released last month. After the surplus announcement was made, Walz indicated that he was committed to a fair and progressive tax system but that he was more than willing to find some compromises that worked with lawmakers.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL – Brooklyn Park) indicated that while the forecast was good news, it was important to recognize that the current budget doesn’t meet the needs of all Minnesotans. For more detailed information on the budget forecast, please see the following link to MMB's webpage on the February forecast.

Essential Ag Processing Workers Next in Line for Vaccines

Following Governor Walz’s announcement at the end of February that Phase 1bvaccinations(which includes ag processing workers) would soon begin, agricultural interests were invited to a detailed presentation on March 1, 2021 with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. AgriGrowth and a dozen of our members participated in the webinar. AgriGrowth has been a strong advocate throughout the pandemic to prioritize our industry in early phases of the vaccine rollout, and will continue to work with state agencies on this issue to protect our industry's essential frontline workers.

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