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Pawlenty praises union contract agreement

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty is praising the state's two largest public employee unions for accepting a two-year salary freeze.

Officials with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees reached a tentative two-year contract agreement with the state Wednesday. Pawlenty told reporters Thursday that the agreement acknowledges the need for belt tightening, and he hopes other public workers follow suit.

"We hope this sends the signal to the school districts, to the counties and to the cities that we expect similar settlements from them as they go into their negotiations with their public employee unions," Pawlenty said. "One of the main cost drivers for local units of government, particularly school districts, is increases in salaries and benefits for their employees."

  Union leaders said they killed a state proposal for forced furloughs as a way to save money. But the governor said he still has the authority to place state workers on unpaid leaves if necessary.

DFL Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook is praising the leadership of the two unions as well. Bakk said they clearly understood the state's budget situation.

"I think they showed incredible leadership in negotiating a wage freeze for two years," Bakk said. "My hat goes off for the governor too, for not digging in on the idea of furloughs and putting people out of work.  I think it's a pretty good compromise, and I hope the public employees decide to ratify it."

  Some layoffs of state workers are still expected, but Bakk said the number of jobs won't be known until a final budget agreement is reached between the governor and Legislature.