3M fined $312,000 following worker’s death at Wisconsin plant and other labor news

By: - November 10, 2023 9:47 am

About 7,000 people work at 3M’s Maplewood headquarters and 13,500 total statewide. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Take a seat in the Break Room, our weekly round-up of labor news in Minnesota and beyond.

3M fined $312,000 for worker’s death in Wisconsin 

Maplewood-based 3M could have prevented a worker’s death at its southwestern Wisconsin manufacturing plant, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The worker, Trisha Jones, died in May after being caught in a machine’s rotating rollers while helping to set up a plastic extrusion line. Jones, 57, had worked at the plant in Prairie du Chien for 23 years, according to her obituary.

Federal investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that 3M failed to use safe procedures for setting up the production line and allowed workers to circumvent machine guarding to cut and remove wrapped fibers at the plant. The agency cited the company for two willful safety violations and assessed $312,518 in penalties.

Last year, a worker at a 3M plant in Alexandria, Minn., died after getting caught in machinery.

“The tragedy of another employee’s death in Wisconsin is compounded by the fact that the 3M Company completed a corporate-wide review and determined powered rollers were hazards in need of safety improvements,” OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan said in a statement on Tuesday. “The company must address these hazards immediately to protect employees from serious injuries or worse.”

Minnesota workplace injury rate increases slightly

The estimated rate of workplace injury and illness in Minnesota increased slightly in 2022 from the year prior, according to the annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.

In 2022, the state had an estimated 3.8 illnesses and nonfatal workplace injuries per 100 full-time workers. In 2021, the rate was 3.4 cases per 100 full-time workers. National injury and illness rates are slightly lower. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there were three cases per 100 full-time workers.

Only significant injuries and illnesses were counted, including those that required days away from work, restricted work, and involved medical treatment beyond first aid or loss of consciousness. Respiratory viruses including COVID-19 were to blame for the majority of workplace illnesses, while the most common injury came from harmful substances or environments, overexertion, and falls.

The industries with the highest injury and illness rates were state government hospitals and nursing homes as well as private industry performing arts, spectator sports and related industries.

Four hours to make a deal on Uber and Lyft regulations

Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach ended Thursday’s task force meeting on pay and protections for Uber and Lyft drivers by noting they have roughly four hours left to come to a consensus on recommendations to present to state lawmakers.

They have yet to begin discussing concrete proposals on anything — wages, insurance,  deactivation procedures, driver support or pay transparency.

Blissenbach said the governor’s task force will make recommendations based on consensus rather than voting or presenting competing proposals. It seems like an impossible task to get everyone to agree given the limited time and the viewpoints of the members, which include drivers, company representatives, state officials, a disability advocate and a state lawmaker.

One more challenge to coming to consensus is that the group also won’t have the summary findings of a state investigation into Uber and Lyft pay until the final meeting. The analysis will provide critical insight into current pay rates based on data of every single Uber and Lyft ride in Minnesota in 2022.

Saahil Karpe, Lyft’s representative on the task force, said that no government has attempted to analyze so much rideshare data before. The most he could think another government entity has taken on is four weeks of data.

Freddi Goldstein, Uber’s representative on the task force, suggested on Thursday the group consider a minimum wage guarantee of $24 per hour based on time a passenger is in the vehicle. The figure, which prompted head shaking from drivers watching the meeting, is an alternative to the minimum per-mile and per-minute rates previously considered by lawmakers. It’s based on a recent settlement the two companies reached with the New York attorney general that will guarantee drivers there $26 per working hour, which also includes the time between a driver accepting a fare and picking up a passenger.

Uber’s proposal of $24 per passenger hour is lower than the $32.22 per utilized hour Uber says drivers currently make in the Twin Cities area.

Drivers appeared fissured at the meeting last month, which was repeatedly interrupted by drivers saying the drivers on the task force didn’t represent their interests. All three task force members are part of the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association, which had until then shown a united front. On Thursday, the meeting room was filled with drivers wearing MULDA t-shirts, signaling the group’s leader, Eid Ali, still has support of many drivers.

Nurses’ union roiled by infighting but still notching victories

The Minnesota Nurses Association is being roiled by infighting as its members vote on new leaders. Labor Notes reported on the conflict, which includes allegations of sexual impropriety against the union’s executive director, the termination of a long-time field organizer and a nurse being stripped of her membership, making her ineligible to run for a leadership position.

The fall-out is like a sugar crash for the union following a successful strike by 15,000 nurses across the state last year which helped them win 18% pay increases over three years in the Twin Cities.

Despite the internal rumblings, the nurses claimed victory in pushing the Hennepin County Board to appropriate $8 million more to the Hennepin County Medical Center to stave off cuts to their health care plans. The union says the additional funding is not enough, however, and is calling on the Board to reject the hospital’s budget until its leaders “take steps to improve their budget and ensure worker retention and quality patient care are prioritized.”

Vertical Endeavors workers to get union ballots soon

About 90 workers at the rock-climbing gym chain Vertical Endeavors will vote on unionizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union beginning next week. Mail-in ballots will be counted on Nov. 29 according to a union spokesperson.

Workers across Vertical Endeavors’ five locations in the Twin Cities and Duluth filed for a union election in August, but the process was held up over a disagreement between the company and the union about which workers were eligible to be in a bargaining unit.

A regional director with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees private-sector unions, determined that shift managers may be included. The original union filing included workers at Nicros, which makes custom walls and rock climbing holds, but they will file as a separate bargaining unit, according to a union spokesperson.

First Avenue voluntarily recognizes union

First Avenue announced last Friday it would voluntarily recognize the union of its roughly 200 service and event staff across seven Twin Cities venues. The announcement by President and CEO Dayna Frank came a day after workers delivered a petition showing more than 70% support for unionizing with Unite Here Local 17.

“Behind our venues are the people who bring in artists and make the concerts magical, they are Minnesotans who recognize beauty and know how to help artists showcase it,” Frank said in a statement. “So when bartenders, service, and event staff expressed their desire to form a union, there was only one answer, which is why we will voluntarily recognize the union, and are committed to bargaining in good faith.”

Frank also noted the business pressures of First Avenue having to compete with multinational and publicly traded entities. She said bargaining in good faith “will require everyone to look at the challenges we face as a whole.”

The voluntary recognition means the effort won’t have to go to a vote overseen by the NLRB and the two sides can begin negotiations over wages and working conditions immediately.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.