State workers share frontline stories, call for Senate to approve their contracts

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Six state employees working to keep Minnesotans safe and government running during the global pandemic shared stories and why it is important to pass the state labor contracts. The employees are represented by AFSCME, IFO, MAPE, MNA, MSCF (Education Minnesota) and Teamsters.

The Minnesota House has already passed HF 2768, the modest state contracts negotiated last year. But the Minnesota Senate has not scheduled a final vote on SF 4605 which appears to set up state workers as bait for end-of-session drama.

For most of the 2019-2021 contracts, pay raises were 2.25 percent in the first year and 2.5 percent in the second year. The modest contracts were negotiated last year within the biennial budget appropriations made in 2019, and therefore are paid for. Contracts covering the vast majority of the state workforce are already in effect, so not passing the contracts would mean a pay cut for frontline workers in the midst of the pandemic.

Now is not the time to play political games with livelihoods of state workers who are doing so much to keep Minnesotans safe and government running during this crucial time. The stories below from today’s speakers represent just a handful of Minnesota’s state workers:

AFSCME: Jim Barbo, AFSCME Local 3887, Minnesota Correctional Facility-Moose Lake  

"I was infected and tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. I had a fever, cough, major difficulty breathing, no desire to eat, and lost my sense of taste and smell. I felt like I was run over by a truck. I was put on heavy steroids and the use of an inhaler. I was out from work for six weeks and to this day I have difficulty breathing. And, yes, I did bring this virus home to my wife. In our facility alone we have more than 40 staff who tested positive and three staff who are hospitalized. All we ask in return for our work is for the Minnesota Senate majority to do their job and ratify the contracts we negotiated in good faith."

IFO: Sara Fier, professor of counseling and testing services at Southwest Minnesota State University

“We provide support for students with their most personal concerns such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, and in doing so contribute to their personal and academic success as well as their retention at our universities. Throughout this event and into the future, we have been and will remain a constant source of support and certainty for our students when certainty is so hard to find. We are there for our students. They know they can count on us.”

MAPE: Carrie Klumb, senior epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health

“I’m part of the team that monitors healthcare workers exposed to COVID-19, assesses their exposure risk and provides advice to facilities. Our role in this response gives us the unique opportunity to be the voice for healthcare workers on the frontlines. I was at the Health Department for H1N1 and there is no comparison. We work hard and really care about what we’re doing. It would be discouraging if modest raises negotiated in good faith a year ago were taken back now. It would be disheartening to feel people didn’t value the work we’re doing to keep Minnesotans safe.” 

MNA: Anne Headlee, registered nurse at St. Peter Regional Treatment Facility

“Nurses like me are on the frontlines of this crisis and working hard at veterans homes, correctional facilities, and state hospitals to take care of all Minnesotans, including some of the most challenging and vulnerable cases. Our State facilities are often the only place for them to heal and recover, and we take our responsibility to care for them very seriously. Public workers like us deserve to be treated with respect and have our contracts passed so we can focus on keeping Minnesotans safe and the state running.”

MSCF (Education Minnesota): Jesse Dahl, electrical maintenance instructor at Hibbing Community College 

“My students will go on to rewire schools, hospitals and businesses to keep Minnesotans safe. That’s why it’s so frustrating our contracts aren’t approved. We are asked time and time again to take pay cuts and freezes when times get tough. Why is it budgets are balanced on the backs of people – the workers – instead of asking some of our largest employers to pay their share? We aren’t asking for much. We’re asking for a fair shake.” 

Teamsters: Tracy Rahim, associate director of student activities and leadership at Winona State and MUSAASF state president 

“As Priority 1 and 2 employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Administrative & Service Faculty have been serving on the frontlines (many still physically working on the campuses) to ensure that our students have continued access to the services and resources they need to continue to be successful in their educational goals and to meet critical needs such as food, shelter and healthcare. Voting YES to ratify our contract is the biggest way the Minnesota Senate can validate the critical work that the Administrative & Service Faculty and all other state employees do on a daily basis to serve the State of Minnesota.”