Minn. Lawmakers Endorse New State Worker Contracts

Updated: 09/20/2013 2:44 PM KSTP.com By: Scott Theisen

Minnesota State Capitol
Minnesota State Capitol
Photo: Photo: MGN Online

Two-year contracts approved Friday award Minnesota state government workers annual raises of three percent or more, formalizing pay bumps that Democratic lawmakers called overdue but Republicans criticized as bloated.
    
On a 5 to 2 party-line vote, the Democratic-led Subcommittee on Employee Relations endorsed a set of new deals, most of which were negotiated and ratified earlier by public employee unions. The vote puts the agreements into force. The full Legislature will still vote on them next year, though that outcome is hardly in doubt. A portion of the raises are retroactive to July 1.
    
"This is a little helpful catch-up that might not go far enough for some of us," said Sen. Jim Metzen, a Democrat from South St. Paul.
    
Lawmakers are not covered by the raises.
    
Officials from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's administration, which forged the contracts, said the pay increases are needed to recruit and retain qualified employees who can make more elsewhere. Carolyn Trevis, an assistant state negotiator, said agencies have been losing workers to local governments or the private sector because of lagging salaries. She said many employees have seen no pay adjustments in three of the past five years.
    
The agreements require workers to pay more for their health insurance beginning in 2015. After then, employees must contribute 5 percent of the health premiums that the state currently covers in full.
    
All told, the contracts add more than $240 million to annual state government personnel costs.
    
Republicans were powerless to stop the ratification. They spent much of a two-hour hearing arguing that the agreements as out-of-touch with the economic times. While all employees will see the 3 percent raises, some who aren't at the top of their pay scale could be in line for much more.
    
For instance, about half of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees - biologists, food inspectors and computer technicians among them - earn less than the maximum for their position and could see 3.5 percent performance-based step increases in addition to the standard raises. That union's members currently average a $59,000 salary.
    
"These are some pretty generous increases," said Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, labeled the pacts "bloated" and "lucrative."
    
Democrats, including Rep. Debra Hilstrom of Brooklyn Center, dismissed the GOP criticism as "public employee bashing."
    
Minnesota has a wide-ranging government pay scale. Some unions represent workers with an average salary of about $40,000 while executive branch managers average $94,000, meaning they'll enjoy a bigger overall raise than those lower down the ladder.

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