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Dayton strongly objects to partisan committee vote rejecting state union contracts

A proposed contract that covers nearly 30,000 state union employees was rejected today on a partisan vote by the Legislative Subcommittee on Employee Relations.

A proposed contract that covers nearly 30,000 state union employees was rejected today on a partisan vote by the Legislative Subcommittee on Employee Relations.

All six Republicans on the panel voted to reject the contracts; all four DFLers voted in favor of the contracts. The vote was not a surprise; a meeting of the legislative group earlier this month got testy, and showed where the votes were lining up.

The contracts had been negotiated by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration with the American Federal of State, County and Municipal employees (AFSCME) and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE.)

The full Legislature could still approve the contracts when it convenes in January. If the Republicans return as the majority party after the election, it won’t happen; if the DFL wins control, it will.

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Explaining today’s  subcommittee rejection, state Sen. Mike Parry, the group’s Republican chair who lost in the GOP 1st District congressional primary, said:

“We have communicated our expectations for new contracts to Gov. Dayton since January. We support salary increases. However, as we have stated many times, we would like to see performance as a determining factor in salary increases. The time to reform government costs and accountability is now.”

Affected union members will continue to work under the existing contract.

Republicans on the subcommittee said they want Dayton to renegotiate the contract, “with performance-based wage increases and employee contribution to health insurance premiums.”

State Rep. Ryan Winkler, a DFLer on the subcommittee, supported the contract and said afterward:

“Today, anti-union extremists chose to attack a fair and modest contract for our hard-working state employees. Unlike the legislators who constantly attack them, state employees have sacrificed. State employees lost $65 million in wages — nearly a 6 percent pay cut — during the Republican government shutdown last year.

“Beating up public employees and pitting middle-class workers against each other won’t make Minnesota a better state. The hard-working, middle-class men and women of this state deserve fair wages and fair benefits. They certainly deserve better than these Republican attacks.”

On Wednesday, Dayton had sent a scathing letter to Parry and state Rep. Steve Drazkowski, Republican vice chair of the subcommittee, saying he didn’t want to participate in “political theatrics” on the issue.

In the letter, Dayton says of the proposed union contract:

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It is a responsible agreement and one that is well within the financial parameters established in the four, two-year contracts negotiated by the previous Republican administration, all of which were approved by the legislature. Most of the other issues you raise are embedded in the contracts, which we inherited from the previous administration and previous legislatures.

We can find no evidence that either of you publicly criticized the previous Governor for his four agreements. We can find no record that either of you offered amendments on the House or Senate floors to change the laws, rules, or procedures, which you now question. So, why is it that what was acceptable during the eight years of the Pawlenty administration, is now unacceptable under mine?

Dayton continued:

Your first action at the beginning of last year was to propose a 15% reduction in state funded employees for every department, including even Corrections and Veterans Affairs. That opening gambit was followed by 22 bills introduced by members of your caucuses, which attacked public employees, collective bargaining, and even the right to form unions. The hearing you held recently to consider this contract was highly charged, adversarial, and partisan.

That kind of atmosphere is antithetical to discussing and enacting the reforms you profess to be seeking. Hopefully, the next legislature can create an environment, where everyone can truly work together, cooperatively and constructively, to better serve the needs of the people of Minnesota.

Let me conclude by reiterating that my administration greatly values our state’s employees, most of whom work very hard for very little recognition or appreciation. They understand that we are in an era of increasingly limited budgets to serve ever-growing needs. Yet salary and benefits improvements are important to our retaining the best and brightest among them. Unfortunately, you and other Republican politicians continue trying to drive a wedge between public and private sector employees. The repeated claims that state employee unions are ripping off Minnesota taxpayers are designed for political gains, not constructive reforms. And they are wrong.