State employees speak: ‘When something shuts down, it shuts down’

State employees speak: "When something shuts down, it shuts down."

State employees are beginning to receive layoff notices as Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican lawmakers continue their staring contest. Since I first asked state employees to share their experiences preparing for a possible government shutdown I’ve received close to 100 responses. The committed workers I’m hearing from are angry and frustrated and, more than anything else, they just want to do their job.

And they want Minnesotans to know how miessential their work is. “I hope people understand that its not just the parks and weigh stations that are going to be affected by the shutdown,” wrote an employee of the Department of Health. “We’re involved in all aspects of the health of Minnesotans. Think water testing, contagious disease outbreak testing and investigations, food outbreaks, unexplained deaths and illnesses.”

Another Health Department worker picks up where the last person left off: “Often our work is unnoticeable and behind the scenes. In the event of a shutdown, a major ‘incident’ could really put a spotlight on the vital public services we provide, in collaboration with others. If during a shutdown there was a foodborne illness or other disease outbreak, public health emergency or disaster, our work will be sorely missed and our absence will be high profile. Our services will be missed by all Minnesotans, rich or poor, although they may not realize it.”

From a Department of Human Services employee: “The poorest of the poor will be affected if there is no staff to support the system that generates the public assistance benefits.” That’s something I’m hearing a lot of. Many state employees serve as a lifeline for Minnesota’s most vulnerable. There is a desperation as these workers wonder if they will be considered “essential,” a fatalism in some who are sure they will be laid off, and a deep concern among all of them for the stability of their clients who may be deprived of economic, psychological, or other counsel from the state.

An employee at the Department of Employment and Economic Development provides a practical example: “My clients are unemployed. Most of the time, with bi-monthly guidance, they are fine. Daily, however, I have two or three clients who need extra help right now as they have a job offer and are negotiating salary or they are losing a home or in need of a referral to a health care provider, or….”

An employee involved in support services across all agencies laid out the blunt reality of the moment: “The pro forma work of preparing for shutdown is dutifully underway. What gets done and when and how is pretty much all laid out in protocol. Every agency has its own routine, with the two support agencies (Minnesota Management and Budget and the Department of Administration) riding herd for overarching consistency and legality. The work itself is dull and emotionless, but I can’t say the same for what is inside the folks doing it. But note that the logistical work involves very few people. Most folks go about doing their work, and there really isn’t a lot of planning to do. When something shuts down, it shuts down. You don’t do alternatives, you don’t do contingencies, you simply shut down.”

Starting this week things should really begin to come into focus. Many of the fears expressed to me have been speculative. Agency upper management types are still working out how a shutdown will look. That speculative phase is coming to an end, however, and soon state employees at all levels will have a clear sense of what their agency will carry on with and what they will shut down.

State employees, please continue to be in touch. As you learn specifics, share them using the simple and secure form we created at the start of this crowdsourcing project. Thank you for helping us cover this story.

A note about the identity of state employee sources: MinnPost has a detailed database of information on all state employees and we are using it to confirm the identities of the people who contact us through the crowdsourcing form. When an employee does not provide a full name and contact information, we do not publish their comments. When the information is personal, as in my post The waiting game: What state employees are doing at home to prepare for the shutdown, we use first names only. When the information is related to a person’s work, as with the information in this post, we identify only the agency they work for.

More voices (updated 6/15/11)

“While most of the people I manage are unhappy about the prospect of a shutdown in terms of what it means for them financially, they’re even more upset about the fact that projects they care deeply about may fall behind, miss deadlines, etc. They often work with partners from other organizations, and they don’t want to let those partners down. That’s a bigger deal than a temporary layoff for many of them, and I continue to be impressed by their integrity and their willingness to put their work first even when they are faced with a layoff and continuing vilification from some quarters.

“For a number of us, we’re more than willing to take the short-term pain of a layoff if it means a better negotiated deal at the other end. It’s not the shutdown that worries me, it’s what we emerge to on the other side. Yes, we want a solution. And yes, we want to avoid a shutdown. But not if it means sacrificing those principles and living with a horrible, short-sighted all-cuts budget.”  — Employee from the Department of Health

“Several employees are pursuing opportunities outside the state system including me. One employee called in today and said they are retiring effective today. More and more employees are either retiring or leaving state service. This coupled with the fact that massive retirements are predicted over the next few years means that the state may have trouble finding skilled professionals. Knowledge and skills are leaving in droves.”  — Employee from the Department of Health

Keep reading! The Intelligencer covers the shutdown:

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 06/09/2011 - 11:14 am.

    “From a Department of Human Services employee: ‘The poorest of the poor will be affected if there is no staff to support the system that generates the public assistance benefits.'”

    Why should we care about the poorest of the poor or these middle-class government workers. We need to protect the upper 2% because they are the job creators.

    In keeping with the rules of supply-side economics, I’m sure that at least two private jobs will be created for every government job that is downsized so these workers should thank us for freeing them up from the burden of the public jobs. Now they can do something productive with their time.

    As for the poorest of the poor, I think Darwin had an idea about how to handle that. Isn’t that what Jesus would want? They won’t need healthcare after the second coming.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/09/2011 - 11:52 am.

    Thanks Mr. Guntzel, this is one of the most important pieces I’ve seen on the shutdown.

  3. Submitted by BILL MCKECHNIE on 06/09/2011 - 12:30 pm.

    It seems to me that the Republican freshmen and those who espouse their view of reality should be required to do several things. First, read the constitution of Minnesota and the USA. Second, they must learn that fundamental to a shared power arrangement, ie governor and legislature requires compromise. It is the heart and soul of democracy as our framers intended. The ideological positions staked out by the Republicans must give way to compromise or fail. Third,they must be forced to admit that they are raising taxes, large property tax increases, but in a regressive way and this is wrong.

  4. Submitted by David Hallman on 06/09/2011 - 05:16 pm.

    The Republicans did compromise. They wanted the budget at 31 billion. They moved to 34 which is in the middle. They have asked the governor numerous times how he would like the 34 billion spent. That is the compromise. Who in their right mind thinks that all compromise means you go halfway on the money? That isn’t what happens in real life.

  5. Submitted by krista ahlman on 06/09/2011 - 05:40 pm.

    Thank you. It’s nice to feel heard. By comparison, my Senator was complaining on mpr yesterday that he isn’t paid enough. His base salary is higher than a corrections officer. With per diem that he maxed out, makes more than a therapist with a master’s degree in state service. Add all his payouts for expenses and he makes more than many managers. Bit he thinks he needs more money, 15% of us should be gotten rid of and the governor and his commissioners ought to come before his committee to be derided like he hasdone to the veterans and mmb commissioners. I get my layoff notice tomorrow and don’t get to do my job starting July 1 but he keeps playing his games and keeps getting paid for his “extra ” work holding us and the citizens hostage until he gets his job done. It’s very discouraging and disheartening.

  6. Submitted by Molly Redmond on 06/09/2011 - 07:19 pm.

    I am glad that the Governor is continuing to insist on needing new revenue in Minnesota’s budget. I’m dismayed at the mean-spiritedness of the IR’s, in the way their cuts will hurt so many of the poor and the unemployed, who are already hurting. The shortsightedness regarding investment in our future–ie, education K-16–is also appalling.

    I wonder if the IR is aware that it is taxes that fund coordinating services such as immediate help for the Mpls tornado victims.

    My husband and son are both state employees. Though my family will be affected by a shutdown, we will ALL be more affected if the IR’s hostage politics succeed. Ever.

    The constant IR comparison to family budgets is delusional. The logical extension of that family metaphor would mean this: the family refuses to pursue more income as its family and/or its needs grow. That’s tantamount to saying it’s OK to let the kids starve, rather than to look for more income.

    Another point–my family is SO AWARE of how much time is now being spent (diverted/wasted) in all agencies as they do the necessary shutdown contingency planning, rather than the jobs that they’re there to do. THAT is where the waste of money is–and it’s the IR’s who are directly, totally responsible.

    The Governor, and the voters, are clear in their preference on increasing taxes moderately on Minnesota’s most fortunate. He’s to be congratulated for his clarity since the beginning of the Session regarding the budget requiring more revenue, his graciousness in dealing with the IR’s–even in their beat-up-the-poor mode, and his firmness.

  7. Submitted by Eric Larson on 06/09/2011 - 10:59 pm.

    BILL MCKECHNIE- Wrong. Upon reading the docs you suggested I noted the following.

    Congress or Legislatures write bills and tax rates. Not Governor’s. Governor’s are vested with the power to veto legislation. And this is a good thing. But they can not write bills or laws. They can use their power of persuasion and skills to get normally opposed people to change their minds. Such as when Gov Anderson with his so called ‘Minnesota Miracle’.

    But Governor Dayton does not seem to have that skill. Or a compelling case. So he can either signs the budgets passed by the people’s reps or he can shut down the govt. It will be his shut down.

    As for state employees. Call your union bosses, if unionized, and tell them to call Gov. Dayton and advise him to take the deal. If your not unionized, call your legistors and tell them to quit and fight another day. If your union boss will not listen, vote to remove them or de-certify your union. You will be better off with new leadership or even better if you make your own decisions.

    We the people through our elected reps have deemed this a crisis that we can all share including you. You get to keep your jobs when so many of us can’t.

  8. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 06/10/2011 - 07:14 am.

    What is amazing is the person that Minmnesota AFSME chose for their public spokesperson. He looks and talks just like a character from the Soprano right down to the New Jersey union “goon” accent!

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