ST. PAUL (AP) -- Minnesota state employees are among the nation's best-paid, but the increases that members of two striking unions were offered were below prevailing wage gains recorded throughout Minnesota this year.
A 1999 survey of state employees' pay put the Minnesota average at $38,879 a year, fifth-highest in the nation behind California, New Jersey, Michigan and Ohio. The average state worker's salary, not counting benefits, reached $43,660 on Jan. 2, 2001, the Minnesota Department of Employee Relations reports.
Minnesota Department of Economic Security's most recent salary survey said state workers were paid 16 percent more than the state average for all industries.
The current average of members of Council 6 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is $30,000 a year, and the average for the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, the other striking union, is about $49,000.
It is less clear, however, how closely state jobs match those in the private sector.
BYLINE1:By ASHLEY H. GRANT
ST. PAUL -- Thousands of Minnesota state employees have struggled over the past week and a half to show that being on strike doesn't mean they're unpatriotic.
On Wednesday, union members from New York who had been at the World Trade Center arrived to reinforce the message.
"Jesse may be 'The Body,' but you're the heart, the soul, and the backbone of this state," James McHugh, a New York transportation department employee and a member of AFSCME Local 1000, shouted to a crowd of at least 1,000 gathered at the Minnesota Capitol, using Gov. Jesse Ventura's nickname from his wrestling days.
McHugh told union members they were not being disrespectful to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Trade Center and Pentagon by striking.
"I believe we union members are a family," he said. "I want you to know that your brothers and sisters in New York support you."
Bob Pinnow was among those huddled together in the mist, shouting, "We love New York. We love New York." He waved a red, white and blue feather boa in the air.
About 23,000 workers from Minnesota's two largest state employees unions -- American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6 and Minnesota Association of Professional Employees -- the went on strike Oct. 1, making it the largest strike in state history.
Some have questioned the decision in light of the deadly attacks and the push for solidarity in the nation's war against terrorism.
Gov. Jesse Ventura has not been directly involved in negotiations, but has said repeatedly the state's best offer is on the table and that if he were one of the state employees, he would be going to work.
Ventura, a member of two entertainment unions, also has said that in wartime, "everyone has to bite the bullet a little bit."
Lisa Maidl, a revenue collection officer for the state in the far northeastern Minnesota town of Ely, takes offense at Ventura's comments.
"He's trying to say we're unpatriotic because we do this?" she said. "Do you watch football games? Do you watch sitcoms? Do you go out to dinner with your friends? Believe me, we do feel bad about what's going on. We have flags attached to our picket signs."
Maidl, 38, called herself "very patriotic."
"Nobody wants to be out there in the rain, in the snow and without a paycheck," she said. "Unfortunately, the timing is bad."
The two unions go back into negotiations with the state Thursday for the first time since the strike began and all sides hope for a quick resolution.
Wage increases and changes to health benefits are the sticking points for both unions.
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