It was all folded arms and worried faces at this afternoon’s monthly meeting of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) at the Elmer Andersen Human Services Building in downtown St. Paul. Nearly 200 union members had signed in by the time I entered the packed conference room. Union leaders were speaking, and the lines were predictable: There was talk of feet stuck in cement, of public employees disrespected, and of a battle that has only just begun.
These were not applause lines. Better to call them head shakers. That was the response to each scripted zinger: heads shaking. The state workers gathered in the room were frustrated and full of questions. Most of their questions had no clear answer.
When a union representative asked if anybody thought the state government shutdown would be averted and then called for a show of hands, just two went up. This is real for these people. In 12 days, all but two of the state employees in that room fully expect to be at home, left to watch the news, curtail their spending, and wait.
Just 12 working days to go and these state employees still can’t be sure how health insurance issues will play out or if they’ll be drawing down their severance pay, applying for unemployment, or both (in succession). That’s one of the things MAPE President Chet Jorgenson told the meeting he’d be negotiating this afternoon. A show of hands revealed a preference for leaving severance alone and allowing laid off employees an early shot at unemployment.
Just 12 working days to go and some who will be laid off don’t even know it yet (though one woman wondered why she received two layoff notices). For some, that may be as simple as a wrong address in a database because of a move. For others, it may be because their fate has not been decided yet. There are stories from the 2005 partial shutdown of people receiving word of their layoff in the afternoon on June 30.
When one union member asked how MAPE will remain solvent in the event of a prolonged shutdown, Jorgenson assured the members that there was a reserve, though it was intended for a strike.
The most ominous piece of advice Jorgenson gave was his answer to a question about whether employees should take their personal items home with them if there is a shutdown.
His response: Definitely take your plants.
Keep reading! The Intelligencer covers the shutdown: