ST. PAUL (AP) -- Contract negotiations were tense and agonizingly slow Friday between the state and Minnesota's largest public employees' union, a union official said.
Don Dinndorf, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6, said the union still hoped to bring a speedy resolution to contract talks. On Thursday, AFSCME leaders gave the state a Friday deadline "to bring a serious proposal" to the table.
"You can almost say there's been no change since yesterday," Dinndorf said in a noon-hour update. "The parties are still at the table and that's always a good sign."
Employee Relations Commissioner Julien Carter said negotiations were expected to continue into the evening and possibly the weekend, but would not comment on the details of the discussions.
Union officials said if an acceptable deal wasn't in hand by the end of the day, the 19,000-member AFSCME Council 6 would consider other options, including a strike. Union delegates plan to meet Aug. 4 to discuss any tentative agreement or consider asking members to vote to authorize a strike.
"We don't look forward to taking that step; a strike is a very serious thing," Dinndorf said. "It really is a measure of last resort."
So far, the state has offered only minimal increases in wages and benefits that will barely cover rising health care costs, said union representative Bob Clegg.
Gov. Jesse Ventura's spokesman, John Wodele, said this year's state employee contract talks have been complicated in part by last month's special session.
He said the threat of a government shutdown diverted time and attention away from the bargaining table.
The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees also is negotiating a new contract.
If the unions find the state's offers unacceptable, one or both could authorize a strike by early September.
The two-year contracts for AFSCME, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees and a few smaller unions technically expired June 30. But members had planned to keep working under current provisions until new deals were reached.
AFSCME in February called for 10 percent wage increases in each of the next two years, more affordable health insurance premiums, guarantees that public jobs won't be contracted out to private companies and better retirement benefits.
Members work at universities, state parks, prisons, veterans homes and virtually all state agencies.
At MAPE -- whose 10,000 employees include computer technicians, parole and probation officers and state hospital therapists -- the opening offer to the state was for a 6 percent raise in 2002 and 4 percent in 2003.
Union leaders note that members accepted a wage freeze in the early 1990s when economic times were tough and say the state didn't reciprocate in times of plenty.
The last state employee strike was in 1981, when AFSCME employees walked out for 22 days in a stoppage that caused few service disruptions. In 1999, MAPE authorized a strike, but agreed to a contract just before going ahead with a walkout.
On the Net:
AFSCME Council 6: http://www.afscmecouncil6.org.
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