Legislative subcommittee rejects union contract settlements

By Mike Cook
An audience member wears a pair of Minnesota Association of Professional Employees buttons to show solidarity during the Oct. 5 meeting of the LCC Subcommittee on Employee Relations. The subcommittee rejected a pair of collective bargaining agreements. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Contracts collectively bargained between Minnesota Management and Budget and two of the state’s largest employee unions failed to gain approval Thursday of the Legislative Coordinating Commission’s Subcommittee on Employee Relations.

On a 6-4 party-line vote, the subcommittee rejected tentative settlements with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 5 (AFSCME) and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE). AFSCME represents about 14,650 state employees; MAPE 14,350.

The contracts, for the 2018-19 biennium, were to take effect July 1, 2017. Current contracts will remain in effect.

Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake) and Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) questioned the fiscal responsibility of these proposed contracts.

As an example, Benson said the Legislature provided the Department of Human Services an additional $31 million in biennial operating funds for the 2018-19 biennium. She said these contracts would consume $22 million of that, leaving just $9 million for any additional department needs.

“These are good, fair and affordable contracts,” said Edwin Hudson, deputy commissioner of MMB’s Enterprise Human Capital Division. He said health cost savings will help offset the increases.

But with health-care cost uncertainty nationally and in Minnesota, Benson said those dollars may not continue to exist. “You’re writing checks you don’t know we can pay.”

Included in each contract were 2 percent across the board pay increases effective July 1, 2017, and 2.25 percent increases one year later. Step increases were to be included each year, about 3.6 percent for MAPE-represented eligible employees and 2.7 percent for eligible AFSCME-represented employees.

WATCH Full video of the meeting on YouTube

As for insurance, the agreements included eliminating co-pays for in-network convenience clinics and for online care, an increase in the minimum monthly employee contribution for dental coverage, increasing in-network dental benefit coverage from 50 percent to 80 percent and permitting employees moving from temporary to permanent positions to enroll in long- and short-term disability coverage without evidence of insurability. 

Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center) said it’s pretty much “immoral” not to approve the contracts.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center) noted a July 21 tweet from O’Neill about being “pleased with the outcome” after House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) agreed to higher salaries for House members. Those increased from $31,140 to $45,000 after a recommendation from a legislative salary council.

“We are talking about 2 and 2 1-2 percent,” Hilstrom said. “… This is shameful.”

The AFSCME and MAPE proposed contracts also had a number of non-financial provisions, including paid parenting leave, establishment of a Suspension-Vacation Leave Reduction Program and an increase in the number of hours employees receive for injured on duty pay.

Edwin Hudson, deputy commissioner of the Enterprise Human Capital Division of Minnesota Management and Budget, reviews the collective bargaining process during the Oct. 5 meeting of the LCC Subcommittee on Employee Relations. Photo by Andrew VonBank

“I believe this is a good resolution for the people of Minnesota,” said Chet Jorgenson, president of MAPE. “This will help new people come to work for the state and stay.”

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) said the administration was running “afoul of the law” with these contracts. He said paid parental leave was passed by the House and Senate earlier this year; however, the bill containing the provisions was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Hudson countered that state statute indicates only legislative approval is needed, not a gubernatorial signature.

This is a “song and dance by the administration” to give something expensive to Minnesota taxpayers, Drazkowski said.


Negotiation process

According to the subcommittee website: “The executive branch of the State of Minnesota employs approximately 50,000 people. About 90 percent of these employees are placed in one of 17 occupationally-based bargaining units, which are represented by one of eleven unions. The unions negotiate collective bargaining agreements that establish the terms and conditions of employment. Traditionally, these agreements are valid for two years and coincide with the state biennium. Minnesota Management and Budget represents management and negotiates on behalf of the state with the exclusive representatives.

“Once a tentative settlement has been reached, employees in the bargaining unit vote to ratify the agreement. The contract is then presented to the subcommittee, which must accept or reject the agreement within 30 days. The subcommittee may not modify a collective bargaining agreement. If the subcommittee does not approve or reject it within 30 days, the contract automatically goes into effect.”

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