Contract approval bill goes to Senate floor for vote 2017-19 agreement

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A bipartisan bill approving MAPE’s and AFSCME’s contracts is going to the state Senate floor for a vote. Senate File (SF) 3154, authored by Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona), approves MAPE’s and AFSCME’s contracts, and six other labor agreements and compensation plans. Two more contracts were added Thursday morning.

The bipartisan bill was approved by a voice vote Thursday morning of the Senate Finance Committee. On Tuesday, the bill was passed by a voice vote of the Senate’s State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

The State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee's approval on Tuesday of SF 3154 didn’t come without controversy, though. Before the committee approved the bipartisan contract bill, the committee passed two other bills strictly along party lines that seek to meddle with the contract approval process. Both bills were sent directly to the Senate floor.

SF 3056, authored by Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake), separates health care from the contract approval process and sends it to the Subcommittee on Employee Relations (SER) for separate approval or rejection. SER members then will get 45 days to make comments.

"This in no way interferes with the collective bargaining process per se," Benson said.

Both labor and management testified against Benson’s bill, saying it runs afoul of the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA), threatens to derail a process that is working just fine, and imposes huge delays to the contract negotiations and approval process.

Testifying for both MAPE and AFSCME, MAPE Public Affairs and Communications Director Richard Kolodziejski said both unions oppose Benson's bill to split health care out of their contracts and send it to SER for separate approval.

"Having a select group of legislators approve or reject [health-care] provision by provision is not negotiating in good faith and violates PELRA," Kolodziejski said. PELRA has been in place for nearly 50 years and has worked wonderfully, he added.

Furthermore, Kolodziejski pointed to the likelihood that Benson's proposal will cause extensive delays, possibly as long as two years. Health care is negotiated by a union coalition with management, and wages and health-care proposals are tied together, he said.

"This bill is another attempt by the Legislature to insert itself into the collective bargaining process on the front side and dictate bargaining's outcome," Kolodziejski said. He urged legislators to oppose Benson's bill.

SF 3540, also authored by Miller, requires that the governor sign contract bills approved by the Legislature into law before they can be implemented. The issue stems from the 2017 legislative session when several labor contracts were approved separately by the House and Senate. Those contracts were then inserted into a bill that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed. Management implemented those contracts anyhow, since both legislative bodies had approved them.

MAPE's 2017-19 proposed contract calls for a 2 percent cost-of-living increase retroactive to July 1, 2017, and a 2.25 percent wage increase on July 1, 2018. Step increases are included each year for those who are eligible. MAPE's contract also includes up to six weeks of paid parental leave following the birth or adoption of a child for eligible state employees. The proposed agreement also includes lower-than-expected health care costs and an improved dental program.

In the state House, two bills that include MAPE’s contract have been introduced. These bills are House File (HF) 2933 authored by Rep. Debra Hilstrom, (DFL), and HF 3031 authored by Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL). HF 2933 was brought up on the House floor the first week of session and held over there to possibly be brought up later.