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Contracts for MN State Workers on Front Lines Hung Up in Debate

Thousands of Minnesota state workers, including those responding to the COVID-19 crisis, say the state should honor pay raises that were agreed to last year. (Adobe Stock)
Thousands of Minnesota state workers, including those responding to the COVID-19 crisis, say the state should honor pay raises that were agreed to last year. (Adobe Stock)
May 19, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Uncertainty looms over previously negotiated contracts for Minnesota state workers after the issue became a focal point at the end of the Legislative session. Employees on the front lines say the contracts, which include pay raises, should stay in place.

The labor agreements were negotiated in 2019, when Minnesota had a budget surplus. But state finances have taken a nosedive during the pandemic, prompting Senate Republicans to balk at ratifying the contracts.

Carrie Klumb, an epidemiologist at the state health department, said seeing the raises go away would be bad for morale.

"You know at the time where we're responding to this pandemic on the front lines, as the health department to be told that we're not going to get the modest raises that we negotiated - that's awful," Klumb said.

The DFL-led House recently ratified the contracts, which were built into the two-year state budget approved last year. However, as the session ended this past weekend, the GOP-led Senate instead made modifications by keeping the 2019 raise, but skipping one set for this July, pushing it to 2021 at the earliest.

Democratic leaders argued the deals can't be changed, and the Senate essentially ratified the contracts. The state budget commissioner is conducting a legal review of the latest action.

Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo said anyone opposed to the raises doesn't want to punish workers as they respond to COVID-19, but added that the pay bumps are mathematically impossible.

He said no matter how policymakers address the state's sudden deficit, no one will like the difficult decisions that have to be made.

"When you have this level of contraction we have had in the private sector, that private sector finances government, you have to have a similar contraction of the public sector," Garofalo said.

But Klumb, who also is a member of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, said it's all hands on deck for her health department colleagues, who are often working through weekends. She said losing the pay raise could do damage in trying to attract future state workers.

"People that are graduating and looking at jobs in public health, why would they come work for the state if this is how people are treated when they're in the middle of responding to a pandemic?" Klumb said.

Minnesota has roughly 50,000 state employees, including nurses, epidemiologists and other health care workers, along with those handling unemployment claims.

Disclosure: Minnesota Association of Professional Employees contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN