ST. PAUL – Many Minnesota businesses are operating resourcefully during the current economic recession and a bill Rep. Dean Urdahl authored to help in that regard unanimously passed the House Tuesday.
Urdahl, R-Grove City, authored changes to improve the shared work program by allowing companies to participate for longer than one year with Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development approval. Prior to Urdahl’s legislation (HF2040), companies were forced into a six-month program hiatus after one year of participation.
The Senate companion also recently passed unanimously, leaving Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s imminent signature as the last action needed to enact the legislation.
“The shared work program works well, it just needed some refinement,” Urdahl said. “Business leaders in District 18B have made it clear how helpful it would be to iron out some of the kinks to make it work even better and, fortunately, we were able to get it through the Legislature.”
The shared work program has been sponsored by DEED since 1994 and some 2,000 Minnesota businesses participate. Under the plan, employers can reduce hours across multiple employees, avoiding layoffs. Affected employees are eligible for state unemployment benefits in proportion to their reduced hours.
“This is a very important program for our employees,” said Sharon Bargel, the human resources manager at Howard Lake-based cabinet-maker Dura Supreme. “For ourselves and other companies across Minnesota that have participated, or are considering participating in this program, this bill would have a positive impact on employees; it will help keep groceries on the table. You start taking eight to 10 hours per week from a 40-hour schedule and that’s a significant impact, so this program helps.”
Phil Radtke, of Manhattan Toys in Eden Valley, said Urdahl’s legislation helps managers like him retain skilled workers who he previously may have been forced to fire during a downturn in business.
“That’s invaluable to me, being able to hang onto people who are skilled workers in this industry,” Radtke said. “But it also helps the state because people are only on 25-percent layoff instead of 100-percent layoff. This is big for me, really big. I’ve indicated to Representative Urdahl how appreciative I would be if he could get this done.”
The policy change is retroactive for plans approved before Jan. 1, 2009. Seasonal employees and businesses permanently reducing workforce are not eligible for a shared work plan.
Dean Urdahl represents District 18B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The district includes most of Meeker County and a portion of Wright County. This is Urdahl’s fourth term in the Legislature after being elected in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.