ST. PAUL — On partisan lines, a Minnesota legislative panel Thursday, Oct. 5, rejected state employee contracts, sending unions back to their current contracts.
The contracts would have covered nearly 30,000 state employees, giving some 2 percent and 2.25 percent pay raises during the two-year period.
Republicans on the state's Subcommittee on Employee Relations said the raises were generous and could leave little funding left to pay for rent increases or other increased operating costs.
"I think about the hard-working construction workers not getting these type of increases," said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazappa. "The people of Minnesota paying for the government are not making these kind of increases."
But Democrats on the House-Senate panel said the contracts were fair and paid for needed work.
"Our role is not to micromanage the executive branch," said Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth. "We can afford this."
The six Republicans on the committee voted against the contract ratification. The four Democrats voted to approve the contracts.
Union officials said they were being used as pawns and their contracts were being turned into a political football.
"This outcome was written before the committee even started today," said Richard Kolodziejski, communications director for the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. The rejected contracts would have covered both MAPE and AFSCME state union employees.
Both he and DFL Rep. Debra Hilstrom, of Brooklyn Center, noted that Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, filed a lawsuit to get House members a constitutionally outlined 45 percent raise in their pay earlier this year. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, a Republican from near Crown, had forbidden the legislative pay increase, but relented after O'Neill and Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, filed suit.
Approval of state employee contracts, which need legislative sign-off, is often difficult in Minnesota. Two years ago, similar complications ensued. Last year the full Legislature approved those contracts, which included 2.5 percent raises in 2015 and 2016.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's administration will work next year to get the full Legislature to approve the contracts the panel rejected on Thursday.
"I hope when the full Legislature convenes in February, the House and Senate vote to ratify the employee contracts," said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans.