MNIT unclassifieds fight for equal rights

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As MAPE negotiators gear up for the April 4 contract opening with Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB), Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) staff are fighting for unclassified employees’ rights under the contract.

About 25 unclassified MNIT employees met Friday to share stories of their struggles as an unclassified state employee. Six MAPE negotiators attended, eager to hear their concerns and help brainstorm potential future fixes through supplemental negotiations.

MNIT temporary unclassifieds

“We’re thrilled to have the chance to talk about what we all consider to be a pretty significant issue,” said Kasey Scarpello, MNIT unclassified at Dept. of Human Services (DHS).

Four key issues were outlined during Friday’s meeting. Unclassified employees cannot grieve termination or bring it to binding arbitration, have no access to unpaid leave for medical reasons and don’t receive education reimbursement. Perhaps the biggest issue is the gross misuse of the unclassified status statute that clearly defines when the use of temp unclassified is allowed. Half a dozen unclassified members shared their stories of the uncertainty that comes with working in an unclassified position, sometimes for years on end.

“I am the primary income earner in my home. If I were to lose our income it would be a significant negative impact on my family,” said Michelle Wilson, MNIT at DHS. “I’m hoping to make a solid reputation for myself to, hopefully, win over whoever would make the decision to classify me.”

Wilson said she loves her job and enjoys working on long-term projects, “I’d love to retire from here someday, but that’s not my decision right now.”

Like Wilson, Miguel Lindgren came to the state 2.5 years ago with the promise of opportunities to work in systems modernization. Coming from the private sector, he had no idea what it meant to be an unclassified employee, and his supervisor promised Lindgren he’d be made classified once his project starts.

“Then I hear ‘just kidding,’ the project won’t start until three years into my temp unclassified position,” he said. “I can’t live like this. My only option is to look outside because I can’t see how I can survive inside this environment.”

DHS employee and Local 2101 member Jennifer Willette said losing an employee like Lindgren would be detrimental to the agency and program in which he works.

“Miguel is really smart and hard-working. He’s the kind of employee we want to stay working for Minnesota,” Willette said. “The general impression is that mgmt. is doing this as an extended probationary period. That’s totally undermining the contact management agreed to.”

Others resonated with feeling misled when accepting temporary unclassified positions upon coming to the state, and question who really benefits from offering or accepting such positions.

“The biggest issue is nobody is getting out of this what they want,” said Jeffrey Erick. “The churn and extra work to rehire and retrain, when they had someone who was already doing the work … The group hurting the most are the citizens of Minnesota.”

Another member from Dept. of Transportation said he felt that as a temporary unclassified employee he feels it inhibits team building and “sends a strong message that we can’t become too cohesive as a team or too functional because we may be gone and that’s not just internalized, there are real effects of that felt by everybody.”

MAPE Negotiations Team co-chair Maggie Dreon recognized the difficult positions temporary unclassified MAPE members are in and promised to work on the issue this round of negotiations.

“You’re put in a tough position and you’re probably feeling kind of vulnerable. The work you’ve done to get us to this point has given us tangible goals on how to fix the process and improve the way you’re being treated in our contract,” Dreon said. “We’ve felt moved by these stories and it’s risen as a priority on my level given the amount of engagement and stories we’ve been hearing.”

Dreon said the team will continue to collect stories and build action networks within local contract action teams and have conversations outside those teams with decision makers.

“Stories are the way we move people,” she said.

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