Minnesota state worker strike `imminent' after talks break off, union leaders say

Sunday, September 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ A walkout by government workers appeared likely after contract talks broke off the state and its two biggest unions, officials said.

``A strike is pretty much imminent,'' said Peter Benner, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6.

A breakdown also was reported in negotiations late Saturday with the 10,500-member Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. MAPE leaders were not immediately available for comment Sunday, but a message on the union hot line said members should expect a strike.

``Unless something extraordinary happens, a strike by both unions is imminent,'' the message said, instructing members to contact their strike coordinators and to take American flags to the picket lines.

Both unions could strike at 6 a.m. Monday. Nearly 28,000 workers _ more than half of the state's work force _ could participate. Some 1,700 prison guards are barred from striking.

AFSCME negotiators were to recommend to the union's executive board Sunday afternoon that a strike be called. MAPE's executive board also was scheduled to meet.

A strike by either union would be the first major work stoppage in Minnesota government in two decades.

Gov. Jesse Ventura ordered the National Guard to be ready to fulfill vital functions if the workers walk off the job.

Talks broke down over wages and health care costs, said Lance Teachworth, commissioner of the state Bureau of Mediation Services. On other issues, he said, both parties ``made offers that got them closer together.''

Benner said the parties ``made some movement,'' but it wasn't enough to satisfy the demands of either side.

Julien Carter, commissioner of the Department of Employee Relations, held out hope Sunday for a return to the bargaining table, but he added: ``It doesn't look good.''

``When you look at the economy and consider what's coming down the line, the state has been more than generous,'' he said. ``We do value our employees, but we have to have contracts we can afford.''

Carter said the state offered AFSCME a 3 percent wage increase over each of the next two years and MAPE a one-time 4 percent increase. AFSCME wanted an annual 5 percent increase while MAPE was asking for a 4.5 percent increase each year, he said.