Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. September 4, 2021.

Editorial: Require vaccination for state’s K-12 teachers

Thwarting an evolving virus requires evolving strategies. Shots for educators is one of them.

It is ludicrous that upcoming entertainment events have more muscular COVID-19 prevention protocols than almost all Minnesota K-12 schools.

Planning to see British pop star Harry Styles at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on Sept. 22? Fans must show proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test, and then mask up once inside.

Guests at all performances at the Orpheum, State and Pantages venues will have to do the same, Hennepin Theatre Trust announced this week.

The vaccination or test requirements, which some sports teams are also enacting, are sensible responses to the surging delta variant that has overwhelmed hospitals in the South. Many private employers are following suit, requiring vaccines for employees or regular testing.

The institutions to which Minnesota’s children are entrusted ought to be ramping up the fight against delta as well. Because kids under 12 aren’t yet eligible for the COVID vaccine, the teachers and staff they’re around for hours each day should be vaccinated or expected to provide proof they don’t have COVID.

It is an outrage that so few Minnesota districts will require these pragmatic precautions. The conscientious exceptions include the Red Lake district, which serves the Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota and is believed to be the first in the state to require staff vaccinations. On Friday, the St. Paul Public Schools’ school board voted unanimously to require immunization for employees.

These two districts are admirably prioritizing community health and doing everything possible to prevent learning disruptions. All Minnesota schools should follow their lead on staff vaccination and accompanying mask requirements.

Recent reports drive home how vital it is to vaccinate educators. One unimmunized California teacher infected 12 of her 24 students after taking off her mask to read to them, according to a disturbing new federal analysis. The students were too young to be vaccinated.

In Texas, a school district had to temporarily close after two teachers developed COVID and died. In Minnesota, an outbreak in Albert Lea during the first week of school underscores vulnerability here.

University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm is now strongly advocating for school vaccine mandates, as well as improved ventilation, distancing and using high-filtration masks in classrooms.

Eight states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have heeded rising concerns and will requiring educator vaccinations or testing, according to Education Week. It’s shameful that Minnesota isn’t among them.

The decision currently rests with local leaders because, according to his office, Gov. Tim Walz cannot mandate shots for teachers; the Legislature would need to enact such a policy.

Lawmakers would not face opposition to this from Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union. In fact, the organization has developed contract language to help districts wanting to require the shots. Officials estimate about 90% of union members are vaccinated.

But legislative action seems unlikely. Instead of worrying about the health of educators and students, Republican lawmakers are continuing to play pandemic politics, this time by attacking Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

State Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, recently suggested at an anti-masking rally that she should lose her job. He’s wrong; Malcolm has provided surehanded pandemic leadership. Abeler also misrepresented vaccine safety stats at the rally, damaging his reputation as a thoughtful legislator.

The pandemic is far from over, and new strategies will be necessary to thwart an evolving virus. At this moment, that means requiring teacher vaccinations and universal K-12 masking. Legislators’ gamesmanship is regrettable.

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St. Cloud Times. September 4, 2021.

Editorial: Shop local — it helps workers

“Our people are our most important asset.”

Business and corporations, executives and marketers say it so often you hardly notice it anymore — like “Have a nice day.”

But the fortunes of those most important assets — American workers — have stagnated for decades. And now, as Labor Day 2021 approaches in the midst of a continuing pandemic, worker shortages are headline news.

It’s possible those two facts are related.

Much has been said about the reasons for the current workforce crisis. Some say too-generous unemployment benefits are keeping workers home. Others point to a child-care crisis that was already crippling, then was exacerbated by the pandemic. Some speculate that the COVID-19 risk to themselves or vulnerable loved ones is keeping some workers on the sidelines. Several hundred thousand more American deaths than would normally be expected happened in the past year, some certainly in their working years. Still others speculate that the historic workplace upheaval of the pandemic gave workers a new perspective on their worth and what they want in return for their labor.

The truth of this worker shortage is likely in all of those reasons. And at least one more:

Since the 1970s, American wage gains have fallen behind gains in productivity. Employers, in short, are getting more for their money. Workers are getting relatively less for the fruits of their labor, in terms of wages, retirement benefits and job security. What’s behind that?

Competition from cheap overseas labor markets is one reason, although the offshoring of American jobs didn’t start in earnest until the 1990s. The rise of automation, another common explanation, is a fairly recent phenomenon. So what happened in the 1970s when the wage-stagnation trend emerged? Economic research supports a theory: corporate consolidation or, put another way, labor market concentration.

What that means is this: As the number of employers in a labor market declines (even if the number of jobs stays the same), there is less competition for workers. Companies can hire without raising wages and benefits because there’s no “other place” for workers to get a better deal. When there’s less competition, employers don’t have to compete by offering their workers more.

Now consider the rise of national and multinational retail, restaurant and manufacturing businesses and the concurrent decline in home-town diners, locally-owned hardware stores and small manufacturing ventures. Think about Amazon and big-box stores and chain restaurants.

And now think about this: Consumers have power to exert pressure. “Shop Local” campaigns are not just for the benefit of business owners. They support better conditions for employees as well, because they enhance opportunities for better wages and benefits by encouraging employers to compete for the talents of the workforce.

Consumers can spend dollars in ways that can help effect changes they’d like to see. If resolving wage stagnation and workforce shortages is an issue you care about, one part of the solution is simply spreading your spending around to a variety of businesses.

Even better? Spend with companies that have proven they mean what they say: “Our people are our most important asset.”

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Mankato Free Press. September 2, 2021.

Editorial: Attack on commissioner unwarranted

In theory, this month Gov. Tim Walz is to call a special session so the Legislature can approve legislation divvying up $250 million set aside from federal funds for “essential workers.”

But the group working on the details — three from the state House, three from the state Senate, three of Walz’s commissioners — haven’t yet agreed on how to split up the money.

And now the governor, with good reason, may decide to skip the special session altogether after a GOP state senator, spouting nonsensical claims about deaths caused by coronavirus vaccines, renewed threats to legislatively fire Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, asserted at an anti-vaccine rally Saturday at the state Capitol that 212 people in Minnesota had died “from” the vaccine. This, he said, warrants Malcolm’s removal from office — something the state Senate, controlled by the GOP, can do by majority vote. This Senate, bending established legislative norms, has repeatedly forced out commissioners in an ongoing effort to obstruct Walz.

Said Abeler: “It seems the only language the governor understands is the removal of another commissioner.”

Walz said Tuesday he would not put Malcolm at risk of removal by calling a special session, especially with the continuing spike in virus infections.

David Montgomery, data reporter for Minnesota Public Radio News, dove into Abeler’s claim with a lengthy Twitter thread, which essentially boiled down to: The numbers Abeler cites don’t mean what he claims they mean. The notation in the database that the deceased had been recently inoculated does not mean, or even imply, that the vaccine was responsible. As epidemiologist Michael Osterholm points out, the database would include those who were vaccinated and then died in a car crash.

Abeler should know that. Instead, he implied in his own tweet that Montgomery’s “thoughtful review” backs his position. Again, it does not.

The vaccines are safe — far, far safer than their absence. MPR reported Tuesday that hospitals across northern Minnesota are filling up with COVID patients, almost all of them unvaccinated.

It is, again, disappointing that so many Republicans are irresponsibly undermining the vaccination process. Ideally, Majority Leader Paul Gazelka would rein in Abeler and declare that the Senate will not vote on removing Malcolm in a special session, but Gazelka, focused on his planned run for governor, is vacating his leadership post.

Without a public pledge from whoever is in charge of the Senate GOP caucus, Walz has to protect Malcolm and forgo the special session.

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