Right to Work has personal impact

Published 11:29 am Friday, March 23, 2012

This week, I have the honor of joining my dad to celebrate his retirement from Hormel Foods. He’s been a dedicated employee at Hormel for 41.5 years and for each one of those years, an active and involved member of not just Austin, but our entire southern Minnesota community.

I’ve always been proud of my dad and I’m very excited to be able to celebrate this milestone with him. As a kid, I took for granted the fact that he woke up every day, poured energy into his job and returned home to pour even more energy into his family. Now, as an adult, I understand very well that he is one of those quiet and hard-working people that make our communities tick.

Hormel was, undoubtedly, an important part of our “family” growing up because the business allowed my father to comfortably raise his family, send his children to local schools and participate in his community. Likewise, my dad was an important part of Hormel’s “family” for 41 years. Without him — and hundreds of others just like him — the company wouldn’t be able to operate on the global scale it has enjoyed.

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My dad’s experience is a good example of how businesses and families work together every day. Businesses are a critical piece of our local and statewide economies; the employees that choose to wake up every morning and go to work on time, do a good job and return home to their families at night are equally important to that economic framework. It’s the partnership that has made Minnesota rich — in a human sense, not monetarily — since this state was born.

Unfortunately, this important relationship has been exploited at the Capitol in recent weeks as political ideologies have taken over common sense. The Right To Work amendment, as supporters call it, is being pushed by a group of conservative Republicans who see similar measures have scored political points in other states. The amendment has nothing to do with the ability to work but, instead, would squelch the voices of employees, like my dad, who work hard every day. If adopted, it would prevent employee unions from collecting dues from workers or operating effectively.

My dad was an active member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union for the entire 41 years he worked at Hormel. When I worked at the plant years ago, I also was a member of that union. The UFCW helped ensure my family had access to fair wages, health insurance, and other reasonable benefits. Because my family had access to these things, we were able to buy a home in town, shop at local stores, and participate in local teams and activities — all things that helped support jobs and wages of non-union employees in our area. Union and non-union families all worked together to support our entire community.

The Right To Work amendment would undermine that important relationship, creating divisions among the workforce and harming the ability of unions to successfully stand up for employees. There’s plenty of documentation to show that ‘Right To Work’ states have significantly lower economic productivity and employee satisfaction than other states, but it shouldn’t take a study to prove this. It’s common sense that taking aim at the working class is never good for the overall health of an economy.

There are, frankly, much bigger issues in this state that need to be addressed. Using Minnesota workers to push an amendment to our constitution, permanently changing the document our state was founded upon is disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to Minnesota to use our founding document as political fodder. And it’s disrespectful to the thousands of hard-working employees just like my dad who have quietly spent years of their lives building the state we love.

If you have any questions or concerns, you may contact me any time at: sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn; 651-296-9248; Room 19 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.

Sen. Dan Sparks