CTUL Letter of Support for Confirmation of Nancy Leppink as the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry
April 28, 2020
Dear Senator Pratt and Committee Members,
My name is Merle Payne, and I am the Co-Director of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL). CTUL is a community-based organization that works for racial, gender and economic justice in the Twin Cities metro area. We are writing this letter to recommend Nancy Leppink for confirmation as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (MNDOLI).
To understand why CTUL supports Commissioner Leppink for the role as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (MNDOLI), it is important to understand the state of workplace enforcement standards that she inherited. For too long, the most vulnerable workers in the Minnesotan workforce have had to put up with rampant violations of their workplace rights. In a recent survey with low-wage workers in the Twin Cities metro area, CTUL found that half of the workers reported having faced wage theft within the past year. In some industries wage theft was found to be even more prominent, such as construction – many non-union construction workers report that they expect that one out of every four jobs will not pay them in full. One third of the workers in the survey reported that they could not address problems in the workplace without facing some form of retalition: termination, cutting back workers’ hours, physically attacking workers, or calling police and/or immigration agencies on workers.
Changing this reality requires a proactive and strategic enforcement approach that includes three key components:
- Investing in worker education. So long as workers do know their workplace rights, violations will continue. Know-your-rights trainings and leadership development need to be consistently resourced and offered so that workers in high violation industries and geographies are prepared to exercise their rights as the front line of enforcement. Trainings should be led by organizations that are trusted by diverse working communities, and those organizations need to be provided resources to be able to lead that work.
- Ensuring enforcement with teeth. So long as employers can get away with violating workers’ rights with a mere slap on the wriest, violations will continue. Employers who break the law and/or retaliate against workers for raising workplace concerns should face swift consequences that matter to them.
- Empowering workers. So long as workers are excluded from spaces where enforcement standards are created, there will be huge gaps in understanding the violations that workers face, and in extension, huge gaps in enforcing those violations. Workers have crucial expertise on how to deal with workplace problems and should be included in decision-making spaces that establish working conditions and enforcement procedures across the economy. This can be done through co-enforcement relationships with community-based organizations that have the trust of vulnerable workers. Through these relationships, we can pinpoint problem employers, industries, sectors and geographies.
Commissioner Leppink has demonstrated a clear understanding of the critical importance of components to creating a more effective proactive and strategic enforcement program that works to prevent workplace violations from happening rather than react once they have already happened. You are already no doubt aware of Commissioner Leppink’s extensive experience in workplace rights enforcement, including over two decades in state service with the DOL, serving as the Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (where she played a critical role in moving a more proactive enforcement role at the agency), and serving as a banch chief for the International Labour Organization for nearly five years. Above and beyond her resume, we have seen Commissioner Leppink step powerfully into the role as head of MNDOLI. Through her leadership, we have seen that MNDOLI is taking significant steps towards improving the enforcement of labor standards for the most vulnerable workers in the state of Minnesota. Commissioner Leppink has brought a culture of proactive and strategic enforcement that includes worker education, enforcement with teeth, and partnering with community-based organizations to inform effective enforcement measures.
We look forward to working with Commissioner Leppink to expand on and deepen the community partnerships so that together we can ensure that the most vulnerable workers in the state are able to access their basic workplace rights. In sum, CTUL recommends Commissioner Leppink for confirmation.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-859-5750.
Brian Merle Payne