A legislative hearing on contracts for state union workers turned testy at times Thursday, reflecting the differing philosophies of Republicans and DFLers on the issue of employee pay and benefits.
State Sen. Mike Parry, who is running in the GOP primary for Congress in southern Minnesota, chaired the meeting, and at times, his controversial style became a focus.
State officials have reached a tentative agreement with two big state unions, AFSCME and MAPE, which represent 27,700 state workers. They negotiated settlement calls for 2 percent pay increases but increased health insurance contributions from workers.
A vote on the agreement was held over until Aug. 23; Republicans, who hold a 6-4 majority on the committee, seemed to feel the settlement is too costly for the state.
DFLers, though, who generally get almost all of the union support in elections, deemed the increases modest.
Parry has been criticized for saying earlier at a campaign fundraiser that he saw Gov. Mark Dayton taking pills at a meeting. “When you sit across from him and you watch him pop 15 to 16 pills while you’re having a meeting, it’s scary,” Parry had said Aug. 6.
So with many union members attending Thursday’s meeting in which he was critical of the negotiated increases, Parry heard some jeers and laughter.
When a DFL House member questioned the way Parry was running the meeting, and Parry replied that he was treating people fairly, many union members in the audience laughed, and someone suggested that he “pop some pills,” observers noted.
“Excuse me, folks, don’t make me clear the room,” Parry said at one point.
And Parry did, indeed call for a 10-minute recess to cool off.
Wrote Jim Ragsdale of the Star Tribune:
“Ultimately, the contracts must go to the Legislature for approval, but the subcommittee can approve them while the Legislature is out of session. Parry’s next date, when he promised an up-or-down vote, could come a day before a special Legislative session called to approve flood relief. Aug. 24 is the tentative date for the special session.”