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MN Lawmakers Debate Honoring State Employee Raises Negotiated Before The Pandemic

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Another issue lawmakers are struggling over is whether or not to honor state employee raises negotiated last year before the pandemic.

It's a decision that will impact roughly 48,000 state workers -- including some working on the front lines.

"I was infected and tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. I had a fever a cough, major difficult breathing," said Moose Lake corrections Sgt. Jim Barbo.

Raises for state employees like Barbo were negotiated before the COVID-19 outbreak.

The second of the two pay bumps is supposed to take effect this summer, but some state lawmakers say it's no longer economically possible to honor them.

"We're not going to give the pay raise to the state contracts this upcoming July, but we think they should get a pay raise last July. The problem is without anybody changing things with us not approving those contracts and no compromise their pay raise from last July is removed. They go backwards, which is not something I want to happen," said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka.

"We need to resolve these state worker contracts and not throw the whole state workforce into chaos especially in the middle of a pandemic when these people are actually working and performing essential services on our behalf's," said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler.

"I truly believe we're going to be in a difficult economic position as a state and we have to all be in that together," Gazelka said.

Earlier this week, Gazelka asked state employee unions to consider renegotiation.

But in a letter to Gazelka Friday, dozens of lawmakers said the negotiated contracts must be passed for workers -- many of whom are working on the front lines as nurses, law enforcement officers, unemployment benefits workers and correctional officers like Sgt. Jim Barbo.

"We are here calling on the Minnesota Senate to stop waiting and pass the contracts that were negotiated in good faith," Barbo said.

The Minnesota House voted to approve the contracts on Monday.

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