State Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, had hoped to use today’s Subcommittee on Employee Relations hearing to criticize new state employee contracts but he instead took fire for calling the meeting and how he ran it.
The contract proposals were agreed to by Governor Dayton’s administration and the state’s two largest public employee unions. The contracts call for an across the board 2 percent pay raise and higher health insurance co-pays. If the subcommittee approves the contracts they go into effect immediately.
Democrats repeatedly questioned why Parry called the hearing now. Several Democrats and union members said the timing is suspicious, given Tuesday’s GOP primary in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District that pits Parry against Allen Quist.
“I question that you’re using this committee as a different sort of tool than it’s been historically used,” Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul said at the outset of the hearing.
Parry repeatedly defended himself. Other lawmakers objected when Parry pounded his gavel and called the audience out of order for guffawing at Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, for saying he wanted to treat people fairly.
“Excuse me folks, don’t make me clear the room,” Parry told the audience.
Lillie later questioned why Parry continued to interrupt and editorialize “when other members were asking questions” about the contracts.
“Is that how you work it in the Senate?” Lille asked
“When you’re chair it is,’ Parry responded.
“So all’s good and fair in love and war in the Senate,” Lillie said. “It’s probably a blessing your down to your last three meetings. I figure you’ll milk this for three days of per diem (legislative pay), perhaps.”
Parry quickly called a 10 minute recess and left the room. As he walked out, a member of the audience hollered “pop some pills!” in reference to Parry’s recent comments that he saw Gov. Dayton take 15 to 16 pills during legislative negotiations.
The committee returned the focus to the state employee contracts after the recess.
But GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, said they were unhappy that performance-based pay wasn’t included in the contract proposal.
“We’re still left with length of service and steps as a proxy for value and performance and I don’t think that’s ultimately where we need to be to get the most out of our state workforce and to encourage innovation and to engage our workers in this difficult process of redesigning and restructuring what we’re doing here for the future,” Downey said.
Several union leaders and DFL lawmakers called the contract proposal a modest pay increase. Minnesota Association of Professional Employees said Republican opponents of the deal are being vindictive to state workers.
“It’s time to move off of pettiness,” Monroe said after the hearing. “It’s time to get Parry and crew to recognize the work that state workers do and to ratify our contract and move on, so we can move on providing services to the state of Minnesota.”
No matter how the subcommittee votes the full Legislature must accept or reject the contracts when the 2013 session starts in January.
Parry said he intends to hold a subcommittee vote on the contracts on Aug. 23. That’s nine days after he’ll know whether he’s on the ballot for Congress in November or will be out of elected office altogether.