Testimony of Mr. Jason A. Adkins, Esq.
Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee
Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division
The Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, submits this testimony in support of wage theft protections for workers (HF 6 (Mahoney)), and earned sick and safe time legislation (HF 11 (Lesch)). Though we do not specifically endorse the paid family leave legislation being heard today (HF 5 (Halverson)), we commend it as a reasonable approach to addressing an urgent need for workers and families. On this Feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of laborers, we urge you to keep these worker protections moving forward.
The Dignity of Work
The employer/employee relationship is a reciprocal one that carries with it rights and duties on the part of both actors. An employee is responsible for fulfilling his or her commitments to an employer to provide honest labor that produces good goods and good services. Anything less is a form of theft.[i]
The employer must treat his or her employees justly and provide good work that is consistent with each person’s dignity. “In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. the primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work. Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.”[ii]
As a general rule, businesses have the primary responsibility to ensure that those in their employ are justly compensated and that reasonable provision is made for them to attend to their primary responsibilities of family and faith when necessary. Employees are not simply commodities from whom employers extract utility. They are persons with dignity who belong to a web of relationships and who have other responsibilities and duties as a result of those relationships. Employers should respect those responsibilities, including the responsibility of caregiving.
When employers fail to protect the dignity and legitimate rights of workers, the state can step in to ensure that there is justice in employment relationships and to create a minimum set of standards that employers are required to meet. The protections, below, are examples of this principle.
Wage Theft Protection (HF 6)
One would think that wage theft would be an isolated problem, yet it is surprisingly prevalent,[iii] even in Minnesota.[iv] In a society increasingly forgetful of God, and thus the principle that each and every human person is made in his likeness, it is not surprising that sometimes the dignity of persons is violated at work. But depriving a laborer of wages is evil and one of the sins that cry out to heaven.[v]
Wage theft exists because employers know that employees are fearful of retaliation, and that wage theft is often difficult to document. The provisions in this legislation clarify employer responsibilities with regard to recordkeeping and notice of wages, combat employer retaliation, and create stronger enforcement powers for the Department of Labor and Industry. If employers behaved responsibly in
every instance, we would not need stronger regulatory provisions on wage theft. But, as G.K. Chesterton said, “when we fail to observe the big laws, we get saddled with the small laws.” It is unfortunate that more laws are needed, but these regulations are basic protections for workers.[vi]
Earned Sick and Safe Time (HF 11)
HF 11 would create a basic employment standard in our state to allow employees to accrue up to six days of paid time off to care for themselves or a loved one. Today, too many working people are forced to make difficult financial choices between caring for themselves or a loved one and missing a paycheck, or even losing their job. According to one estimate, approximately 1.1 million Minnesotans, or 41 percent of the state’s workforce, face this situation because their jobs do not offer earned sick leave.[vii]
As fewer full-time jobs are created and companies restructure employment practices around part-time opportunities without benefits, developing earned leave policies is especially important.[viii] People need the security to know that they have at least some time to recover from illness or can take time to care for family members and not lose needed income or employment. Illness in one’s life or family is inevitable. This legislation would not only help family life but would send a message that caring for children and families is a real priority within our society.
Paid Family Leave (HF 5)
Caring for newborns, children, the sick, and the elderly (and being cared for ourselves) is a privileged place in which we grow as persons and in our own humanity. It is an integral part of family life that must be respected and promoted. As the family is the first school of virtue and solidarity, it is the place where we learn to share those virtues with others in society. Caregiving should be protected and promoted as a cornerstone of family and social policy.
There are many different ways that paid leave programs can be constructed. This proposal is a reasonable one that makes it easier for smaller employers to participate by creating a funding mechanism through payroll so that costs are not borne all at once. We encourage the Legislature to continue to explore proposals that make it easier for employers to honor the important obligations employees have as caregivers and for employees to fulfill such obligations.
[i] “Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another. Hence work is a duty: ‘If any one will not work, let him not eat.’” Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2427.
[ii] Id. at No. 2428.
[iv] Howard Kling, “Testimony at MN Capitol underscores need for stronger wage theft laws,” Workday Minnesota, Feb. 12, 2019, available at https://www.workdayminnesota.org/articles/testimony-mn-capitol-underscores-need-stronger-wage-theft-laws
[v] Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1867.
[vi] It is encouraging that another anti-wage-theft bill is moving forward in the Senate (SF 1816 (Pratt)). Though we support the standards in HF 6, we applaud the Senate authors for bringing forward legislation, and hope that a bi-partisan solution can be developed that reasonably accommodates employer concerns.
[vii] Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Access to Paid Sick Time in Minnesota,” September 2014, available at https://iwpr.org/publications/access-to-paid-sick-time-in-minnesota/.
[viii] Ibrahim Hirsi, “Why Minnesota has so many non-full-time jobs — and why that’s both good and bad for the economy,” MinnPost, October 17, 2017, available at https://www.minnpost.com/good-jobs/2017/10/why-minnesota-has-so-many-non-full-time-jobs-and-why-s-both-good-and-bad-economy/.