Minnesota state workers unsure about calling strike

Thursday, September 27, 2001

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Two unions representing nearly 28,000 Minnesota state workers have voted to go on strike, and Gov. Jesse Ventura has ordered the National Guard to be ready to fulfill vital functions if they do.

The walkout deadline was pushed from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 because of the terrorist attacks, which also have tempered some strike support.

Last-ditch talks resume Thursday on two-year contracts for the workers, who make up more than half of the state work force. Their former contracts expired June 30.

In landslide votes a few weeks ago, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6 and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees gave the go-ahead for strikes.

But since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, even rank-and-file members who are prepared to strike acknowledge that a few of their co-workers are having second thoughts.

"Members are kind of all over the board as to whether we go forward or not," said Lyn Crosby, a 34-year state employee and MAPE member who works in the Department of Human Services.

"As an organization, I believe the drive is still there. We're not going to take a bad package just because of the national tragedy," Crosby said.

AFSCME member Paul Bissen hopes union leaders don't back down, but he senses uneasiness.

"We've had a few people who have said maybe it's not appropriate right now," said Bissen, a road and bridge inspector for 17 years.

At issue for both unions is pay and proposed changes to health benefits. The state offered across-the-board increases of 2.5 percent this year and next for AFSCME, and 2 percent a year for MAPE.

AFSCME's last contract proposal sought across-the-board increases of 6.5 percent for each of two years. MAPE sought 6.3 percent this year and 4.2 percent next year.

The average gross salary for an AFSCME member is $30,000; for MAPE members, it's $49,300.

If either union walks off the job, it would be the first major strike of Minnesota government in two decades.

The usually outspoken Ventura, who campaigned on a platform of fiscal austerity, says the state has made a fair offer. He hasn't injected himself into the negotiations, saying he would rather leave it to his employee relations commissioner.

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