Move to limit state worker pay, benefit increases advances in House

With a thin 68-to-63 vote, the Minnesota House of Representatives this afternoon approved a bill preventing public employees and governments from extending a union contract beyond the point at which it expires.

Under the legislation, which I described here when the Senate approved a similar measure last week, 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.

The bill is aimed at Minnesota state workers who have worked without a contract for more than 10 months.

Some Republicans have claimed the state labor unions are slowing negotiations, hoping for a more labor-friendly House and Senate in November’s elections.

“This is a situation where the unions have the advantage in the negotiations,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowki, R-Wabasha, the bill’s author. “In our public employee contracts, we have automatic reauthorization of the contract terms going forward, coupled with step and line increases and COLAs of the old contract. If the old contract had salary reductions or health insurance reductions in it, it’d be the unions coming to us to ask for this provision.”

But another Republican, Rep. King Banaian, R- St. Cloud, says some state workers — he cited faculty unions at St. Cloud State University — will be punished for a situation not of their making. Banaian, a professor at the university, said one colleague told him he fears he won’t get a raise he’s waited six years to get.

“For members of smaller unions, we have to wait for our contracts to get settled, until the bigger ones get settled. We don’t necessarily have a lot of control over when we get to settle. We have to wait ‘our turn.’ We’ve been working without a contract for nine months. We’re still waiting. This person has earned the promotion, and even if all of us sign that, this person — six years of work — will not be recognized unless other people decide to settle their contracts before us.”

“You’re going to see more strikes… that will take years to heal,” Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Lake, said. “Think of your small rural communities… and ask yourself, ‘is it good policy to have residents of my community to have less income or more income with which to purchase goods and services from local businesses?'”

But Drazkowski said since the last state worker contract expired, extension of contract provisions has cost the state $140 million in “unnegotiated increases.”

Gov. Mark Dayton is not expected to sign the legislation, and the closeness of this afternoon’s vote shows there aren’t enough votes to override a veto.