GOP lawmakers reject state worker contracts

Members of Minnesota’s two big public employee unions suffered a setback Thursday when a legislative panel voted down their tentative contract agreements.

The Subcommittee on Employee Relations rejected the tentative deals by a 6-4 party-line vote. Republicans opposed the contracts covering more than 30,000 state workers. Democrats supported the pacts.

Under the two-year contract agreements negotiated with the state, members of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees and AFSCME Council 5 would have received raises of 2 percent this year and 2.25 percent next year. There were also step increases each year and a six-week paid parental leave benefit.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, argued that the raises were too big and exceeded economic growth measures.

“I’m concerned that what we have here is increasing the payrolls of people who happen to work for government at the expense of people who don’t work for government,” Drazkowski said.

Other Republicans on the House-Senate panel, including its chair Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, raised concerns about the impact of the pay raises on state agency budgets.

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“We need to be fiscally responsible,” O’Neill said.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, pointed out that O’Neill filed a lawsuit against House GOP leadership earlier this year to get a legislative pay raise of 45 percent. The raise had been set by a constitutionally mandated salary council.

“I believe that this absolutely, absolutely is a valid contract that should have been approved by this body,” Hilstrom said. “I think it’s shameful what’s being done today.”

The motion approved by Republicans to reject the contracts also directed negotiators for the unions and executive branch to return to the bargaining table to reach an acceptable agreement.

In the meantime, state employees in the two unions will continue to work under their existing contracts.

Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, criticized GOP lawmakers for rejecting what he insists was a fair deal.

"We're tired of being pawns in a political game where Republicans think they can score points by beating up on hardworking people,” Seide said. “They reject our contracts while they approve massive tax breaks for corporations and their wealthy cronies.  Shame on them."