Minnesota lawmakers preparing for next contract showdown with state workers

The Minnesota Senate today passed a bill that prevents public employees and governments from extending a union contract beyond the point at which it expires. Before doing so, however, it added an amendment that eliminates police, fire, corrections, military and veterans services workers from its impact.

Under the legislation, the contract terms could not be extended if it would provide a wage increase to an employee, or an increase in the state’s insurance contributions.

“It’s not their fault if an agreement is not reached, ” Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood said of state employees. “Why should they be penalized?”

“All the bill is doing is freezing things,” Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, said. “Everything stays as is. A contract term does not continue in effect and is not enforceable. What’s happening currently with negotiations is that the negotiations are continuing, but our governor — the Dayton administration — interpreted the language to continue increases indefinitely. We believe that was not the intent during the negotiations of the previous contract. This bill would eliminate that. The intent is to create a level playing field, and a balance in the bargaining power.”

“What the advantage is to the state escapes me,” Sen. Ken Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “It’s to the state’s advantage to negotiate with the labor unions after the state budget is passed. You’re believing the unions have an unfair advantage” he said, noting that it has more to do with the Legislature “not getting its work done on time.”

“What we’re trying to do is slowly but surely pull collective bargaining apart,” Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, said. She said state employees could end up with no health coverage once a contract expires, if the cost of insurance goes up.

“You’re right,” Parry said. “This is something that would be negotiated in new contracts.”

The bill passed on a 37-to-25 vote.