More than 1,000 members meet with Gov. Walz in contract action
More than 1,000 members participated in MAPE’s first virtual contract action with Gov. Tim Walz on March 10. The virtual gathering was MAPE’s largest yet on two platforms, Zoom and YouTube.
“MAPE members have been central to Minnesota’s quality of life and the care and relief of its citizens throughout the pandemic. The services we provide will continue to be key to an equitable recovery. Our state requires maintaining a continuity of public service for a successful recovery, including continuity for our contract,” MAPE President Megan Dayton told Gov. Walz.
The Negotiations Committee will begin bargaining the union’s 2021-23 contract with Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) on April 6. MMB Commissioner Jim Schowalter also participated in the meeting.
U.S. News & World Report recently named Minnesota the second-best state in the country. The Best States rankings evaluate how well each state serves residents across a range of categories, including education, healthcare, economy and infrastructure. “We’re number two because MAPE works, and MAPE makes Minnesota work,” Walz said.
Ahead of upcoming contract negotiations Walz told members, “You have my commitment, and Commissioner Schowalter’s commitment, to negotiate in good faith to put our workforce at the front and center.”
The State is now anticipating a $1.6 billion surplus instead of a large deficit. Walz said the budget was being redrafted to include the surplus and other expected COVID-19 relief funds recently approved by Congress. “We should never ever apologize for the importance of state government and local government workers in not only the quality of life they improve but the economic impact they make,” Walz said.
He added, “Collective bargaining and union activism not only improves the lives of citizens in this state, but also lifts everyone else up economically.”
Unemployment Insurance Operations Specialist Maureen Dunaway said MAPE members carrying out the recovery deserve a fair contract that doesn’t take us backward, one with reasonable cost-of-living increases and affordable health care premiums.
“Over one million Minnesotans lost their jobs during the pandemic. We’re a last resort for folks. Without our help, they wouldn’t have been able to put food on the table, pay their rent and contribute financially to their communities,” Local 501’s Dunaway said.
Local 1801’s John Redding is a behavior analyst at the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Hospital in Willmar. The inpatient psychiatric hospital for children aged four to 18 is the only state-owned and operated facility of its type in Minnesota. “As a person of color, one of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to be a role model.”
Redding told the governor, “You ask us to take care of people, and we need the State to take care of us and support investment in direct care and treatment programs serving Minnesota’s most vulnerable.”
A new study from Save the Children shows that kids in Minnesota are faring the best overall during the COVID-19 pandemic. “That’s because of people like John and folks across a spectrum of jobs,” Walz said.
Local 1303’s Robin Windsperger, a clinical program therapist at the Lino Lakes Correctional Facility, spoke about how persistent staffing shortages noted in the Safety in State Correctional Facilities report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor have threatened the safety and security of staff and offenders.
“Understaffing has plagued facilities at all levels, limiting much needed critical resources to support successful reintegration from prison to community. The lack of competitive salaries creates additional challenges with retention and recruitment of skilled professionals,” Windsperger said. “Department of Corrections employees put their lives at risk each time we walk into a correctional facility. We have been short-staffed and underpaid for too long.”
Local 1502’s Valerie Dorff, a field services agent in Moorhead, also addressed the issues of staffing, safety and the priority of reducing Minnesota’s prison population. Dorff said this will place a greater emphasis on probation and parole in Minnesota, where agents currently supervise 103,000 persons on probation and parole.
“Having additional staff would also improve the safety of agents working in the field. The work of a probation agent can be dangerous, we find ourselves in perilous conditions more often than we would like,” she added.
Regarding corrections reform, the governor said, “Valerie is exactly right. If we’re going to reintegrate more people back into our communities, that’s going to take resources and professionals to help them do this. We’re going to be committed to this.”
Dorff also noted that her husband has health issues requiring him to utilize health care frequently, and in January their son broke his leg and spent five days in the hospital, “In our next contract, we need to hold the line on healthcare – and keep insurance affordable. I don’t want to go backward and hope to see a fair COLA.”
MMB Commissioner told members that he and Gov. Walz are both aware of how important affordable healthcare is “and the role that it plays in making state employment viable, rewarding and is something that we’re going to be committed to working on with you.”
MAPE members are professional employees with years of knowledge and expertise and often feel their voices are not heard by leaders at their agencies when policy decisions are being made. Governor Walz said he will change that.
“I am going to reiterate to my commissioners that the expectation is that no surprises with our partners and bring in that expertise that helps guide us. We certainly don’t believe we have all the answers. You have my commitment, and it will start with making sure the commissioners know that it is my guidance and expectation of them to work directly with you,” Walz told members.
Following the meeting, Region 5 Director Vernitta Moore led a discussion on the importance of members working to help pass an equitable budget that provides much-needed services to all Minnesotans, and a fair contract to all State workers delivering those services.
“MAPE employees always step up. We played a critical role in providing relief to Minnesotans during this pandemic and we also have a key role to play as we move from relief to recovery,” Moore said. “There are three things we all can do: send a tweet, call or email your state legislators and/or the governor and join a Contract Action Team.”
To learn more about these actions, visit www.mape.org/summit-governor.