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Union members flock to picket lines on first day of strike
Associated Press Writer
October 1, 2001

ST. PAUL (AP) - In the dark, misty early morning, strikers trickled onto picket lines across the state, wearing union jackets and carrying signs.

Employees of the Office of the Chancellor of MNSCU walked the picket lines in front of a downtown St. Paul office building. On the left is Patti Hals, on the right is JoAnn Simser.
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"I feel there's tension here," said Karen Flynn, a management analyst with the Department of Human Services and member of the 10,500-member Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. "I don't want to see my co-workers cross the line."

She stood on a street corner near her office building with a few other workers, hoping negotiations would soon produce a contract she and others could feel good about supporting. Drivers honked and waved as they zipped by.

Nearly 28,000 workers in two unions - more than half the state's work force - are on strike, making it the largest in state history.

Flynn would like a larger pay increase, but better health benefits are even more important to her. The state's offer would mean larger deductibles and co-payments for state workers. She says that will eat up any proposed increases in pay.

Some have questioned the timing of striking when the nation is at war, including Gov. Jesse Ventura.

"Our citizens are still hurting from the devastating attack on Sept. 11, we are coping with the possibility of a long and difficult war, and we are facing the prospect of an economy that is on the brink of recession," Ventura said in a written statement Sunday evening.

"I don't see myself as being unpatriotic," Flynn said. "We started negotiations last November. We could delay, and delay and delay. I don't think it would change anything."

Wearing his Vietnam veteran cap and an army-issued jacket, Jon Blank also discounted arguments that he was being unpatriotic. Blank, a 13-year transportation department employee, said exercising his right to strike is patriotic in itself.

But Blank said he's not taking this step lightly. "No one wants to go on strike without pay," he said at a rally of 400 to 500 people at the Capitol.

Carol Williams, a computer expert at the Department of Administration and MAPE member, said she was disappointed and surprised that the union and state didn't settle over the weekend.

"We all know this is a time for people to pull together," Williams said. "My heart says we should all be together and not fighting. But I support my union."

Brian Griffin, 43, of St. Paul, isn't a member of either union, but stands behind the striking workers.

"You can't delay negotiating contracts ... based on a thought of whether it's good timing," he said. "When is good timing?"

Striking state employee Russ Scheidler composed a song early Monday morning, expressing his frustration with the Ventura administration's approach to the contract talks. He performed it for his colleagues at a rally at the state Capitol. Listen.
(MPR Photo/Patty Marsicano)
Al Herron doesn't agree.

The 35-year-old janitor at McDonald's two blocks from the Capitol building said the strike isn't a good idea with the war going on. He thinks union leaders should have delayed it longer than two weeks.

"I think it's bad timing," he said.

This is the second state employees' union strike for 47-year-old Deborah Schumann. She was a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6 when 14,000 employees struck for 22 days in 1981.

Schumann, an industrial pollution control specialist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, now is a member of MAPE. The last thing she wants to be is on strike for a second time, she said

"We're Minnesotans," she said. "We love Minnesota. I don't want to be on strike ... but we do need to maintain a livable wage."

Schumann has reached the top of her pay scale at about $24 per hour. Even MAPE's newest contract offer wouldn't change that. But more negotiation might yield less costly health insurance, she said.

She put two months' worth of house payments in the bank and put off paying for a new roof on her garage, in case a strike happened. But she worries about her daughter, a single mother who also is a state worker and on strike.

Flynn, the 16-year DHS worker, hopes there's a quick resolution to the contract talks.

"I want to work," she said. "I want to go back to work because I love my job."

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)