Minnesota’s Labor Leaders gathered to condemn Senate Republican’s abrupt removal of Minnesota Labor & Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink. Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy delivered the following comments:
On Wednesday afternoon, without any warning, Senate Republicans voted to remove Nancy Leppink as Minnesota’s Commissioner of Labor and Industry. This department is tasked with ensuring that workers are paid what they are promised, helping injured workers access much-needed workers compensation benefits, stopping child labor, and keeping Minnesota’s workplaces safe.
With experience on the state, national, and international level, Nancy Leppink is one of the most qualified persons to ever lead the Department of Labor and Industry. In her first major test as Commissioner, she worked around the clock with lawmakers from both sides of aisle to help craft a historic law that made wage theft a felony.Once the new law took effect, she and the department staff worked tirelessly to make sure employers were in compliance – something that upset certain interest groups and political leaders.
As the COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to workers and employers, Nancy Leppink truly showed she was the right person to lead DLI. She brought labor and business together to ensure that healthcare workers and first responders qualify for workers compensation should they become ill in the fight against this virus. She and her team worked day and night to provide workers and employers the information they need to create the safest work environments possible, and she made sure workers were protected from retaliation for reporting unsafe working conditions.
Having had the opportunity to get to know Nancy Leppink over the last year and a half, I can tell you that she has a genuine passion for making sure workers are treated with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, it was likely her commitment to working people and strong enforcement of our labor laws that contributed to Senator Gazelka’s decision to remove her.
Now, working Minnesotans are forced to continue braving the pandemic without this exceptionally qualified leader. For Senate Republicans to take such a reckless action and remove such a qualified woman is anti-worker, sexist, and partisan politics at its worst.
But what’s done is done and Minnesotans have many daunting challenges ahead. We are now five months into a pandemic with an unknown end. Our state budget is now in the red and unemployment is at its highest rate in more than a decade. With stalled negotiations over another federal stimulus bill, Minnesota’s lawmakers need to act immediately on a bonding bill and supplemental funding for communities in distress.
These are huge challenges that require us to pull together instead of playing the kind of divisive partisan politics we saw on Wednesday.
Minnesota’s Labor Movement will support any lawmaker of any party who takes action to put working people first. Lawmakers have another opportunity to show where they stand during next month’s special session, and we will be watching.