State employees to lawmakers: You got your raises, now approve ours

MAPE members led a rally on the Capitol steps on Day 1 of the 2018 legislative session.

State workers rolled out the welcome mat for lawmakers returning to St. Paul today, four months after a legislative subcommittee pulled the rug out from under their collective bargaining process.

Hundreds of state workers, members of AFSCME and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, rallied on the Capitol steps over the noon hour. Union members called on lawmakers to approve their contracts, and to quit treating state employees like a political football.

“It’s disheartening and discouraging to feel like the Legislature doesn’t value the work we do,” said MAPE member Angie Arnold, a grant officer at Normandale Community College.

The two unions, which represent about 29,000 state employees, reached tentative agreements on 2017-19 contracts with the state last summer, and members voted overwhelmingly to approve the pacts in August. They include annual wage increases of 2 and 2.25 percent, raises that are fully funded by the state’s budget and smaller than those in state workers’ previous contracts.

The raises are considerably smaller, too, than the 45 percent pay increase lawmakers are pocketing this year. In fact, one of the Republican subcommittee members who joined a party-line vote to reject the contracts last fall sued the state to make sure she got a pay hike of her own.

“That raises my blood pressure,” said Nikki Engen, a MAPE member from Ely who works as a collections officer for the Department of Revenue.


Calling for fiscal responsibility while pocketing your own big raise is textbook hypocrisy, Engen added, noting that state employees agreed to a pay freeze during the state’s budget crisis a decade ago.

“My house payment doesn’t make itself. My daughter’s dance tuition doesn’t pay itself,” she said. “Costs go up, and we remain the same.”

MAPE and AFSCME members continue to work under the terms of their previous contracts, which expired June 20. Union leaders say they have no plans to return to the bargaining table and renegotiate the tentative agreements.

“There’s no reason not to approve this contract,” Arnold said. “We bargained with the governor’s team in good faith. This is what we get when we follow the rules and do the process the way it’s supposed to be done?”

Many at the rally worried that delaying state employees’ wage increases – and putting them in the middle of a political fight – would make it harder for the state to recruit qualified applicants to fill job openings.

Rep. Deb Hillstrom, a DFLer from Brooklyn Center, noted that wages in the private sector increased more, on average, than the raises negotiated by state employees. Private-sector wages increased 3.1 percent last year, and the increase is expected to be even greater in 2018.

“You are the people that make Minnesota work and that make Minnesota great,” Hillstrom told rallying workers. “You deserve better.”

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