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Striking union members rally before new talks begin
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
October 10, 2001
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Hundreds of striking state employees rallied at the state Capitol Wednesday, one day before contract talks resume between the state and its two largest employee unions. Neither side is publicly showing any sign of movement. Striking workers say they'll walk the picket line as long as it takes to get a better contract, while Gov. Ventura says the state is standing by its final offer.

Israel Miranda, an EMT instructor with the New York Fire Department who was at the World Trade Center after the attacks, showed his support for the striking Minnesota state workers during a rally Wednesday. In return, the striking workers gave him a $10,500 check for New York fire and rescue workers. Listen to his comments at the rally.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Ten days into Minnesota's largest state worker strike, union members who gathered at the Capitol seemed determined to continue their strike if the upcoming round of negotiations fails.

Peter Benner is the executive director of AFSCME Council 6, representing 19,000 state employees ranging from janitors to health care workers. The other union, the Minnesota Association of Profession Employees, represents food inspectors, accountants and parole officers. Benner says neither MAPE nor AFSCME will go back to work until both unions settle with the state.

"We went out together, we're going back together," he said.

Leaders from other unions representing teachers, airline pilots and truck drivers say their members are standing by the striking state workers, and two New York public employees spoke at the rally to show their support.

The president of AFSCME International, Gerry McEntee, brought a check for $100,000, which the union will use for its strike relief fund and for strike operations. McEntee urged union members to hold out for a better contract. "If a governor like Jesse Ventura can get away with this, then governor after governor in state after state will try and get away with it as well," he said.

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State employees comparatively well paid, but slipping
The state's latest offer to AFSCME is a three-percent pay raise in each of the next two years, while the union is asking for five-percent annual raises. The state is offering MAPE a one-time four-percent raise, while MAPE is asking for 9.2- percent over two years. The unions also object to the state's health insurance proposal, which they say will increase out-of-pocket expenses for many members and, in some cases, offset wage gains.

Ventura spokesman John Wodele says the governor believes the state has offered the unions a fair contract. "The governor is standing by his offer, his final offer and at this point, does not believe that it would be prudent, given the economy, to put more money on the table," Wodele said.

Ventura said on MPR this week that if he agrees to the unions' demands, he will have to either raise taxes or cut government spending. The unions dispute that, arguing that state agencies can absorb the difference between the state and union proposals.

State officials say the two sides are about $140 million apart, while the unions say the number is less than $100 million for both contracts. Both sides say they're hopeful that the new round of talks will resolve their differences, but neither side is saying anything publicly that would indicate a middle ground.