ST. PAUL (AP) -- A second state employee union overwhelmingly authorized a strike Tuesday, meaning 60 percent of Minnesota's government workforce could walk off the job in two weeks.
The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees joined the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6 in rejecting a contract offer from Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration.
If no last-minute deals are reached, as many as 29,500 employees could strike at 6 a.m. Monday, Sept. 17. Union leaders are girding for the worst.
"I'm basically an optimistic person," said Jim Monroe, MAPE's executive director. "I don't feel real optimistic about this."
f no last-minute deals are reached, as many as 29,500 employees could strike at 6 a.m. Monday, Sept. 17.
Leaders of MAPE and AFSCME filed "intent to strike" notices with the Bureau of Mediation Services and the Department of Employee Relations, which triggers a 10-day cooling off period.
"Now, basically, we wait," said AFSCME spokesman Don Dinndorf. "We hope that mediation will take place the 13th, 14th, and 15th -- butting right up against the strike deadline. That's kind of the nature of the animal."
Of the nearly 6,000 MAPE members who returned ballots by mail, about 84 percent voted to reject the contract offer. On Saturday, AFSCME released similarly lopsided results from its contract vote.
Ventura's administration is moving ahead with strike preparations. The governor has activated the National Guard to train for work in 122 state-run nursing homes and care facilities. Temporary workers would be hired for other critical roles.
"We have to be prepared for the worst," said Department of Administration Commissioner David Fisher.
He warned that the public would notice service interruptions or delay if workers strike.
"There is nothing fancy or racy about what we do, and we're very good. You don't even know that we're there," said Deb Schadegg, MAPE's president. "Maybe that's been part of the problem. And now our members want you to know we're here."
AFSCME members work at universities, state parks, veterans homes and virtually all state agencies. MAPE represents computer technicians, parole and probation officers and state hospital therapists, among others.
Meanwhile, Employee Relations Commissioner Julien Carter said he is working to avoid a strike without committing taxpayers to a settlement they cannot afford in the long run.
"We're just like any other business. We have just so much in resources that we can work with," he said.
Carter maintains that the state offered both unions a 9 percent increase in overall compensation over the next two years. He said AFSCME has demanded an 18.5 percent increase in total compensation and MAPE sought 21.9 percent.
But the unions argue that Carter's figures include raises many workers would have received anyway and that the across-the-board raises don't remedy years of stagnant wage growth.
"It's time to pay the piper," Monroe said.
Monroe said at least a quarter of MAPE's 10,500 members are at top scale and wouldn't be in line for the "step" increases.
Counting across-the-board wage increases alone, the state offered 2.5 percent in each of the next two years to AFSCME; the union wants 6.5 percent annual pay raises. For MAPE, the state proposed 2 percent yearly increases; the union seeks 6.5 percent this fiscal year and 4 percent next year.
Changes to health benefits, which would shift costs to employees through higher co-payments and deductibles for people who use the services, are also an issue.
The last major state employees strike was a 22-day walkout by AFSCME in 1981 that involved about 14,000 workers.
On the Net:
AFSCME Council 6: http://www.afscmecouncil6.org
State Department of Employee Relations: http://www.doer.state.mn.us
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