At its April 10 meeting, the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council unanimously voted in favor of a legislative proposal that would lead to the most significant workers comp reform since 1995. The reform, which was passed by the Legislature in May, redefines occupational disease and personal injury to include mental impairment, bringing Minnesota out of the minority of states that don’t recognize mental trauma experienced in the workplace as a compensable claim. The agreement will also increase benefits to injured workers.
Created in 1992 to address issues related to workers’ compensation, the council consists of six labor and six business representatives. Ten members are appointed by the Legislature, and the other two seats are filled by the presidents of the largest statewide organized labor association in Minnesota and the largest business organization. The latter two posts are held by Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, and Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson. Together the board members advise the commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry of workers’ comp-related matters and propose changes to the system.
Olson, Knutson and AFL-CIO chief of staff Brad Lehto were vital in seeing this legislation come to fruition, a testament to the triumphs labor and business can achieve together. Olson has been president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce — which represents more than 2,400 companies across the state, 130 local chambers and 65 business trade associations at the Minnesota Legislature — for more than two decades. He also devotes his time to serving on several boards, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the Greater Twin Cities United Way.
Knutson was elected to lead the 300,000-member Minnesota AFL-CIO in 2009, succeeding Ray Waldron and becoming the first woman to lead the organization. She was re-elected to a four-year term in September 2010. She previously served as president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation as well as political director for AFL-CIO’s Regional Federation. Prior to her roles in unions, Knutson worked for then-St. Paul Mayor Jim Scheibel, specializing in labor, health and immigration issues. She grew up in a union family, and has worked to preserve the legacy for future generations.
Before taking on his position as chief of staff, Lehto worked for seven years as legislative director for AFL-CIO. He graduated from Augsburg College with a B.S. in political science and sociology.