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After Vote, Labor Contracts For State Workers In Limbo

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — New labor contracts containing raises for thousands of Minnesota state government employees got thrown into limbo Thursday after a legislative panel reviewing the agreements failed to ratify them.

A joint House and Senate committee deadlocked on contracts Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's administration negotiated with public employee unions. The panel's Democrats moved to endorse them while Republicans unified against them, resulting in a series of 5-5 votes.

Thursday's votes don't automatically kill the contracts. State law allows most of them to take effect after 30 days unless the panel reconvenes and a majority votes to strike them down. But the full Legislature must adopt or reject them next year, and the tie votes could foreshadow trouble. Republicans, who control the House, could try to force the sides back to the bargaining table by not adopting them.

The contracts spell out pay and benefits for the 14,800-member American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 5, the 13,700-member Minnesota Association of Professional Employees and four other smaller units. The agreements call for 2.5 percent across-the-board raises this year and next with many employees qualifying for seniority and merit raises on top of that. But employees will bear higher health insurance premiums and other care costs.

Two pacts covering 2,600 managers won't take effect next month with the others. Those workers will pay higher health fees but won't see more money in their paychecks, prompting an angry reaction from Dayton.

"To be denied (raises) on a partisan vote is just despicable," Dayton said, adding that people who are against government are victimizing government workers.

All told, the wage-and-benefit settlements could add $300 million to state labor costs over the two years.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, vented frustration with a ratification process he described as "un-American, un-Minnesotan and unreal." He also had harsh words for the agreements, which could put some employees in line for double-digit percentage raises over the two years.

"It's government being out of touch with regular, hard-working Minnesotans," Drazkowski said, declining to predict if the contracts would get hung up when the full Legislature convenes in March. He and other GOP members also argued the deals weren't adequately accounted for in the recently enacted state budget.

Republican Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said the state would be better off pinpointing raises for its best employees or those in areas of greatest need. "Spreading the benefits like peanut butter is not an effective way to maintain a competitive workforce," she said.

Democratic Rep. Debra Hilstrom, a Brooklyn Center Democrat, said it's not up to lawmakers to dictate terms of agreements reached through established collective bargaining.

"That's not the role of the Legislature or individual legislators to meddle in the negotiation process," she said.

Richard Kolodziejski, communications director for the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, said the contracts resulted from months of tough negotiating.

"We are hopeful that the political posturing does not continue at the hands of elected officials who have a history of attacking the work and efforts put in by hard-working employees," he said. "I urge all legislators to support the contracts for all state employees."

By 6-4 votes, the committee ratified contract agreements for the Minnesota State College and University faculty, administrators and related staff.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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