ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Hundreds of union members flooded Minnesota's Capitol Monday to protest loudly as a Senate committee weighed whether to make Minnesota a "right to work" state.
Supporters of the Republican-sponsored measure want to put an amendment on November's statewide ballot that would ask voters whether Minnesota's Constitution should be amended to make membership voluntary in private and public unions. Membership is not compulsory under current law, but non-union employees in unionized shops must still pay a "fair share" fee of up to 85 percent of normal dues.
Elaine Kollar, a teacher at a public high school that's part of a juvenile detention facility in Anoka County, said $700 in yearly dues are taken from her paycheck.
"I don't know where my dues go. Do I have any say in any of this? The answer is no," Kollar said.
In all, 23 U.S. states now have a right-to-work law, the most recent being Indiana where it was approved earlier this year by Republican legislative majorities and signed by a Republican governor. The debate over right-to-work measures has flared in state Capitols around the country in recent years, as Republicans who gained power in numerous statehouses have pushed to weaken union strength. Minnesota supporters say it would improve the state's business climate and improve the economy.
In Minnesota, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is a strong union supporter, so Republicans are pursuing a statewide vote instead. Monday's hearing, the first on the issue, prompted Minnesota unions to bus in hundreds of members who chanted just outside the hearing room - at times drowning out the testimony of amendment backers.
Ursula Tuttle, a registered nurse at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, said she lived in Oklahoma in 2001 when voters there approved a right-to-work measure. She told the committee she voted in favor and later regretted it.
"I believed it would create jobs. It didn't," Tuttle said. "It didn't create jobs, and we stayed poor."
State Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, questioned why the amendment is needed in Minnesota, where the unemployment rate has consistently been among the lowest in the country.
"Where is the problem we are trying to fix?" Latz said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee planned a vote later Monday on the amendment, which has yet to receive a hearing in the House. Republican legislative leaders have declined to promise definite votes in the full House and Senate, and have acknowledged that not all Republican lawmakers want it on the ballot with union leaders vowing to spend millions to defeat it.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.