ST. PAUL – “Where are the damn jobs?” was the question posed by a sign at Thursday night’s State Capitol vigil. Not only were no jobs created during the 2011 legislative session, the state government shutdown that began at midnight put thousands of public and private sector workers out of work.
Minnesota’s sluggish economy, struggling to recover from the recession, will be rocked by the layoffs of 23,000 state employees and thousands of others as the effects of the shutdown ripples through local units of government, businesses and communities.
Some 10,000 construction workers immediately face unemployment due to the closure of all state-funded construction projects, said Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council.
At a vigil Thursday night, state workers filed before a microphone to list the litany of public services affected by the inability of state lawmakers to reach a budget agreement before Friday’s start of a new fiscal year. They ranged from adoption services and addiction programs to business licensing, pollution prevention and public health efforts.
“We want to work!” participants in the vigil chanted as darkness fell on the state Capitol. A sign on the building said it was closed until further notice due to the shutdown.
Failure to compromise
Minnesota labor leaders said Republican lawmakers, by refusing to address the state’s revenue shortfall, were to blame for the impasse that led to the shutdown.
“Their insistence on protecting millionaires has now resulted in a government shutdown that leaves thousands of public and private sector workers without a job,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson.
“While this shutdown will be harmful in the short-run, it is only a preview of what the GOP’s all-cuts budget would look like.
“Governor Dayton has met Republicans halfway with a balanced solution that will hold the line on taxes for 98 percent of Minnesotans. We call on Republican legislators to join Governor Dayton in the middle and forge a compromise that will create jobs and protect the middle class.”
Jim Monroe, executive director of MAPE, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, said state workers “are being used as pawns in a budget impasse,” adding “It seems that legislative leaders do not understand the value that public services give to the quality of life in this state.”
Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, the largest union of state workers, said, “We are saddened the Republican legislators would dispose of us like we are yesterday’s trash.”
In the coming days, both unions will be operating phone banks so members can call lawmakers to demand an end to the crisis and a fair budget.
They also plan a mass rally at the Capitol July 6 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Dubbed the “Downeyville Rally” after state Rep. Keith Downey, who sponsored legislation to slash the state workforce, the event will dramatize the effect of the shutdown, in the same way impromptu encampments called “Hoovervilles” portrayed the devastation of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
A moral crisis
Participants in Thursday night’s vigil were joined by clergy from various faiths. The Rev. Paul Slack, pastor of New Creation Church in Brooklyn Park, spoke for many when he framed the debate in moral terms.
Thousands of Minnesotans, especially the state’s most vulnerable residents, will be hurt by the shutdown and by many of the proposed budget cuts, he said.
“We need to pass a budget – not just a budget – but a budget that works for us all,” he said. “This is not a budget crisis. This is not even a revenue crisis. This is a moral crisis.”
For more information
A local group, ShutDownRiseUp! will offer a free meal every day at 5 p.m. in Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis and the opportunity to organize around the shutdown.
Barb Kucera is the editor of Workday Minnesota, where this article and photo originally appeared.