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In Minnesota, state work continues - slowly
Associated Press Writer
October 2, 2001

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Most days, Regenia David runs Minnesota's office of technology. On Tuesday, she was guarding a Capitol parking lot. If necessary, she was ready to scrub toilets.

"I came dressed in my grubbies," said David. "They're just using us wherever they need us."

David is among thousands of workers doing jobs they don't usually do as Gov. Jesse Ventura tries to keep the government going through a strike by about half of state workers. The workers, seeking better pay and health insurance, went on strike at 6 a.m. Monday.

In their place, state troopers were fielding 911 calls, National Guard troops were changing bedpans and senior officials were performing all manner of clerical work.

For most, it was a learning process.

"Knowing that your office does this and knowing how to do this are two different things," said John Manahan, the state's deputy treasurer, as he went about learning the proper way to process checks issued by the state.

Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer spent the first day of the strike learning how to locate copies of Uniform Commercial Code files in a computer database and then fax them out to businesses.

Kiffmeyer said about 70 percent of her office's workers are on strike. Her managers were busy sending out e-mails to try to find temporary workers willing to do clerical work for $11.25 an hour.

Kiffmeyer said she felt prepared because the office runs a take-your-boss-to-work day that routinely has managers reverse roles with their employees.

"It's kind of fun to be directly doing the work," she said. "So often as a constitutional officer, I tend to be more distant from the actual work."

Other top officials were less hands-on.

Commerce Commissioner Jim Bernstein, whose department regulates industries ranging from banks to gas stations, said he also took a turn opening mail, but added: "Mostly I'm doing what commissioners do. I'm going to meetings and giving speeches."

David, the assistant commissioner for the Department of Administration, said she sees her guard duty as boring but necessary.

She said some of her management colleagues are working in nursing homes and others are emptying wastebaskets. She spent Monday trying to count how many workers crossed the picket lines.

"It's interesting to do different work. It does break up the routine," David said. "The problem is it's stressful because I have so much work in my office that I should be doing.

About 700 National Guard members were at work at psychiatric treatment centers, nursing homes and group homes. They earn about $120 per day and perform basic duties such as janitorial work but don't do any health care work that requires professional licenses.

The commander of the Guard, Maj. Gen. Gene Andreotti, said nearly 1,000 members are trained for the work, and the rest will rotate into the jobs if the strike goes on for weeks.

The only place Guard members are in fatigues is in state-run veterans homes. Elsewhere, Andreotti said Guard members went without their uniforms.

"We didn't want to upset the people in regional treatment centers, so we showed up in civilian clothes," Andreotti said.

Ventura, asked about the strikers while on a trip to New York City, said: "We're not barring the doors. It's their call. They're out there because they choose to be, certainly not because of us."

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