Public Workers Rally for Contracts

2-21-2018
Nearly 1,000 public workers and our allies filled the state Capitol steps Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to approve state employee raises.
Nearly 1,000 public workers and our allies filled the state Capitol steps Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to approve state employee raises.

Nearly 1,000 public workers and our allies filled the state Capitol steps Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to approve state employee raises.

“Respect, respect,” workers chanted at the rally organized by AFSCME Council 5’s ally, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, on the first day of the legislative session.

“I really have a hard time with some of the legislators who got a 45 percent pay increase refusing to vote for our contracts,” says MAPE president Chet Jorgenson. “I’m proud of the work I do and I’m proud of the work you do. I’m really tired of the lack of respect.”

State employee contracts are in limbo right now. Even though AFSCME Council 5’s multi-unit and MAPE already negotiated their contracts with the Dayton administration and ratified them, Republicans on the legislative Subcommittee on Employee Relations (SER) recommended rejecting them. Those contracts, which include cost-of-living increases, now need approval by the full Legislature.

“The governor already signed our contract,” says Local 2181 member Dave List. “The Legislature is just dragging their feet. It hurts working people who need that 2 percent raise, which should have been in effect months ago.”

“I want us to have a contract,” says Local 2181 president Mary Jo Camper. “We negotiated it in good faith. The Legislature is getting a 45 percent pay increase. All we’re getting is 2 percent. I don’t think that’s going to break the bank.”

(From left to right) AFSCME Local 2672 president Sharon Kirscher, Sue Hartman of MAPE, and AFSCME Local 2762 treasurer Marti Capaul.
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While SER didn’t take any action on the AFSCME Unit 8 (corrections) and Unit 25 (radio control operators) contracts, which give them interim approval, those contracts still need legislative approval, too.

Until the Legislature acts, none of these workers get the improved health care and dental benefits negotiated in the new contract. That hurts public retirees, too.

“As retirees, we also depend on the health insurance and the dental that is negotiated,” says AFSCME retiree Karl Meller, who spent 20 years working at the Minneapolis Veterans Home. “Playing a game with the contract is a form of union busting.”

List agrees: He sees the Republican SER vote against state worker contracts as part of a national GOP attack on workers.

“They really want to break unions,” List says. “It’s a threat to democracy.”

AFSCME Local 2181 member Dave List and president Mary Jo Camper.
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DFL leaders say they want to act on the contracts quickly this session. House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk told MPR News they want to pass state worker contracts when they vote to restore funding to the Legislature, which Gov. Dayton had vetoed last year. Bakk says if lawmakers and their staff get a raise, state workers should, too.

But Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt told MPR the state contracts should be addressed separately, and warned against turning the bill into a “Christmas tree.” The Republicans added numerous unrelated measures to bills last session.

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On Tuesday, DFL Rep. Debra Hilstrom told the crowd it’s only fair that if the Legislature votes for their own pay raise, they should approve one for workers, too. She pointed out that COLAs in the state contracts were already fully funded, and that private sector raises on average are higher than for public workers.

“Minnesota is leading the nation in many, many areas in job creation and as a place to raise a family,” Hilstrom says. “It’s time the Legislature shares the value that you provide and passes a fair contract … You are the people that make Minnesota work and that make Minnesota great.”

You can take action to help.

Text FREEDOM to 237263 to be connected to your state legislators, or call your senator at 1-866-891-0358 and your representative at 1-877-553-0116.

ASK YOUR LEGISLATORS TO: Pass state employee contracts and support the freedom of all workers to join together in strong unions.