ST. PAUL (AP) -- Leaders of the state's second-largest union are recommending that its 10,500 members reject the state's "final" contract offer.
The proposal will be put to a vote of rank-and-file members of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees next month. The votes should be tallied in September.
If a majority of the members vote to reject the contract as the board of directors has recommended, it would serve as authorization to strike, which could happen as soon as 10 days later.
"We're telling our members that if they don't care about their benefits and wages anymore, they should vote in favor of this contract," said Jim Monroe, executive director of the union. "It's an absolute insult."
The union is seeking pay increases of 6.5 percent retroactive to July 1, 2001, and a 4 percent increase in 2002. The state's latest offer was 2 percent for 2001 and an identical raise in 2002.
"Two percent is really a slap in the face," Monroe said.
He expects the membership to soundly reject the offer, which also calls for what he says would be "draconian" changes in employees' insurance programs. The changes would, among other things, force employees to pay more out-of-pocket costs, he said.
MAPE's members include computer technicians, parole and probation officers and state hospital therapists. The average salary of union members is about $40,000 annually.
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.
Contract negotiations between MAPE and the state likely will cease until after the membership vote, Monroe said.
Meanwhile, negotiations continue between the state and Minnesota's largest public employees' union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6.
Officials in Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration resumed negotiations Monday with the 19,000-member AFSCME after a 10-day recess in talks. Talks continued Tuesday. But officials say substantial disagreements remain.
AFSCME has rescheduled a meeting for this Saturday of 400 to 500 union delegates selected to recommend action to the broader membership. The delegates tentatively are set to meet Aug. 18, when they may be asked to look over a contract proposal or recommend a strike.
Employees from AFSCME, MAPE and several other smaller unions are working under contracts that expired June 30.
On the Net:
Department of Employee Relations: http://www.doer.state.mn.us
AFSCME Council 6: http://www.afscmecouncil6.org
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