After Years of Organizing, MAPE Members at the Dept. of Revenue Win Student Loan Debt Reimbursement
During the MAPE 2017 negotiation cycle, the Department of Revenue (DOR) Supplemental Bargaining Team hosted a series of listening sessions to discover what issues mattered most to our MAPE members. Career advancement opportunities were identified as the top issue. The team put together a negotiations proposal that addressed several barriers to career advancement which included: increasing promotional opportunities of internal candidates, removing college degrees as a barrier for advancement and addressing student loan debt that prevents members from furthering their education. This proposal led to an expansion of the Professional Examination Bonus program, but nothing to address student debt other than a Letter of Understanding to continue the conversation.
“Minnesota Revenue gets a lot of employees fresh out of college who not only have to contend with a low starting pay and an expensive cost of living in the metro area, but they have the added burden of student loan payments. It wasn’t just recent college graduates facing this issue, either. Student loans can take many years to pay off depending on how they are structured – we have numerous employees who have been at Revenue for years and are still making payments on their debt. The fact that this was an issue that affected so many of our members to such an extent they were willing to fight for it made it a rallying point we could organize around, much like paid parental leave had been not long before,” explained Joe Sullivan, a Revenue Tax Specialist and a member of the Supplemental Bargaining Team.
“I started attending MAPE events with a sign that said, ‘Got student loan debt?,’” Sullivan continued. “It was a great way to strike up a conversation with members about why this issue matters to them and build interest and energy in the effort.”
“The State was working on attraction and retention items when MAPE came to the table with Student Loan Debt Reimbursement (SLDR),” said Region 7 Director Carolyn Murphy, who served as Region 4 Negotiations Representative at that time. “Local 401 saw an opportunity; whereas, if Revenue was serious about attracting and retaining highly qualified and highly educated individuals, this was the way to support that investment.”
The DOR team decided to form a Student Loan Organizing Committee. In 2019, over 150 MAPE members at DOR attended a meeting facilitated by Murphy with then- Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly.
“The meeting was important to put actual faces and stories in front of the Commissioner to humanize the effort,” added Murphy. "The meeting demonstrated how a program like this could benefit and alter the lives of our members. Some people can’t afford to work at the State and make ends meet. By creating a little extra room in an employee’s budget, SLDR could help our members tremendously.”
Commissioner Bauerly expressed some interest but would not commit to implementing the program.
The team continued to build interest and engage management on this issue at every opportunity. They proposed the program again in supplemental bargaining in 2019 and 2021 without any success.
After proposing the program again in 2023 supplemental negotiations, management finally agreed. The program includes up to $5,000 per year made in quarterly reimbursement payments with a $25,000 lifetime maximum per person.
Sullivan expressed his excitement about the news, “It’s a great win! I know of a few people who have already gotten started on their paperwork for HR and will soon benefit from this program. It feels rewarding to have been there from the start and see this benefit finally come to fruition. It speaks to the great things that can be accomplished when we stick together and persevere for what we want.”
“It’s exciting to see Revenue picking up this program and helping our members reach their personal and professional goals!” said Murphy. “I’m so glad we took the time to talk about the benefits of SLDR and it’s finally happening.”