Duluth considers attaching strings to Cirrus subsidy

The city of Duluth and the airplane manufacturer Cirrus may be on a collision course that could have one of the few northern Minnesota success stories looking elsewhere.

Although it recently chose Tennessee as the site of a new facility, Cirrus planned to expand its Duluth operations if it got state and city help to ramp up production of its new light jet.

But the Duluth News Tribune says city councilors want to insert collective bargaining rights into the deal over the objections of the manufacturer.

“Given the prevalence of denial of collective bargaining rights and violations of federal law in contemporary manufacturing, it seems prudent that when we subsidize a project, we should include some language that simply guarantees that … employers, employees and labor organizations will actually follow federal law on matters pertaining to collective bargaining,” 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress said.

“I don’t think anyone would say I’m anything other than an ongoing supporter of organized labor,” Bill Burns, an attorney for Cirrus, countered. “If and when issues arise at Cirrus they should be dealt with appropriately, and they will be.”

While Burns said federal law already protects the workers, another councilor said the National Labor Relations Board is dominated “by Bush and Reagan appointees” and is ineffective in protecting worker rights.

“What always surprises me is that the building of the facility is done by union labor, and that’s great. But the employees who work inside the building for the business then are completely ignored, and that issue is never addressed,” said council member Sharla Gardner.

“You know we’re trying to throw our weight around because we were promoted by labor to get on the council is what I’m seeing,” 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle said.

Cirrus’ attorney said he’ll likely advise the company not to agree to the deal, which could establish a new benchmark for how much influence into operations local government will get in exchange for taxpayer money.

Considering there are 150 new jobs at stake and the northern Minnesota economy is struggling, Duluth will likely back away from taking a stand on binding arbitration in exchange for the financial assistance.

Meanwhile, Grand Forks, where parts of the jet will be built, is looking for workers in a tight labor market, the Grand Forks Herald says.