Partisan deadlock delays state worker contracts

The implementation of state employee contracts covering more than 30,000 employees is on temporary hold after a panel of Minnesota lawmakers failed to approve the agreements Thursday.

Members of a joint House and Senate subcommittee deadlocked with tie votes on four separate contracts, which Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration negotiated with labor unions. Democrats supported the contracts, while Republicans opposed them.

Still, state law allows for some of the contacts to take effect in 30 days if no other action is taken. The Legislature doesn’t return until March.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said that wrinkle in state law is problematic.

“I don’t know anywhere else in the world that that happens, expect here in the Subcommittee on Employee Relations in the state of Minnesota,” Drazkowski said. “I don’t know. It seems un-Minnesotan, un-American, unreal.”

The delayed contracts provide across the board salary increases of 2.5 percent each of the next two years, along with additional step increases for eligible employees and other benefit improvements.

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The money was included in the state budget that lawmakers passed last session.

Agency officials are expected to manage the increases within their current budgets, according to Minnesota Management and Budget Assistant Commissioner Marcy Cordes.

Drazkowski and other Republicans argue the increases are too costly and are out of synch with the private sector.

The chair of the subcommittee and other Democrats disagree.

State Sen. Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, said the contracts were negotiated compromises. Metzen said state workers “paid their dues” during the last recession by going without raises to help balance the budget.

“Here we are today, we’ve got a $2 billion surplus, and I’m a believer that people should get paid,” Metzen said.

The subcommittee voted to approve two contract agreements that cover faculty in the Minnesota State College and University system.

UPDATE: At a news conference this afternoon, Gov. Mark Dayton called the vote by Republicans despicable.

"These people who are just against government and against me and victimize people who have no connection other than they happen to be career people in state government when I arrived and most of them will be career people when I leave, to deny them a very modest increase is just - I have nothing but contempt for people with that kind of attitude.”