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National Guard substitutes at state health facilities
By Mark Steil
Minnesota Public Radio
October 1, 2001
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The state employees strike includes a couple dozen workers at a state veterans home in Luverne, in southwest Minnesota. National Guard troops are filling in for the strikers. On the first day of the work stoppage, world events were as much an issue as labor disagreements.

National Guard member Luke Albers wheels a resident around outside the state veterans home in Luverne.
(MPR Photo/Mark Steil)
THE FIRST DAY OF THE STRIKE SAW SEVERAL UNION MEMBERS cross the picket lines outside the veterans home in Luverne. Management says about half of the union workers came to work - union officials put the number slightly lower. Veterans home administrator Pam Barrows says the turnout did not surprise her.

"They didn't have any reason to be striking, and they care about these residents and wanted to be here for them," says Barrows.

The Luverne facility is home to 85 military veterans. About 50 National Guard troops are helping at the home. Some of them could be seen pushing residents in wheelchairs as the strike began. The troops are part of the 133rd Airlift Wing stationed at Twin Cities International Airport. Troops are also helping out at veteran's homes in Hastings and Minneapolis. Luverne administrator Pam Barrows was thankful for the help, but disappointed the National Guard was needed. She says with the nation pulling together following the terrorist attacks, now is not the time for a strike.

"Our world changed on September 11th. And with the economic downturn, the fact that we're basically at war - I just was extremely disappointed that something wasn't worked out," Barrows says.

The picketers lining Highway 75 at the veterans' home entrance were also mindful of the nation's new mood. Many had American flags stuck to their shirts, are attached to their strike signs. David Meyer, president of local 2225 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says the union delayed the strike for two weeks out of respect for the victims of the attack - some of whom were union members.

"The pastor who was with the firemen, he was an AFSCME employee."

Meyer says despite the terrorist attacks, life in all its complications goes on. He says the union strike is one part of that.

"That's one thing about America. We have this right and this is a right we're exercising. You can't do this in other countries," he says.

Meyer says he's telling union members to get ready for a long strike - weeks rather than days. Administrator Pam Barrows, though, is already looking towards the end of the work stoppage. She says all of her employees are good workers, and she hopes strikers and non-strikers will be able to work together when this labor issue is settled.