Minnesota unions await details of deal to end shutdown

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ST. PAUL - Union members are awaiting details of the agreement to end the state government shutdown announced Thursday by Governor Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders.

The news came on the 13th day of the shutdown - the longest state government closure in U.S. history. The two sides were at an impasse over how to resolve a $5 billion deficit for the budget period that started July 1.

Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers said they have "the framework of an agreement" based on terms described earlier in the day by the governor. However, nothing will be final and state employees won't be back at work until bills are drafted and passed during a special session of the legislature.

Dayton said he would drop his proposal to tax the state's wealthiest Minnesotans and instead raise revenue by delaying $700 million in education funding for school districts and borrowing $700 million from future income on the state's settlement of a lawsuit with tobacco companies.

In return, Dayton said Republicans must drop all the policy proposals they had hoped to mix into the budget legislation. They ranged from bans on abortion and stem cell research to measures that would undercut workers' collective bargaining rights.

The governor also said Republicans must drop their plan to cut the state workforce by 15 percent and they need to adopt a $500 million bonding bill to fund important infrastructure projects and create jobs.

Hard to comment

"Until we see the details of the actual budget bills, there is nothing solid to comment on, so we will have no comment," AFSCME Council 5, the largest state employee union, said in a statement on its website.

"Until they work out details of the individual budget bills, and the legislature actually passes those bills without changes, the shutdown continues. Until that happens, we continue our work to make sure we help achieve the best deal possible."

State employees held rallies in Duluth Wednesday and Bemidji Thursday to urge adoption of a budget requiring wealthy Minnesotans to pay their fair share. Unions and other organizations also have been holding meetings in legislative districts across the state to keep the pressure on lawmakers. Those meetings are scheduled to continue. View a list of upcoming events.

Unions members have been collecting food and raising money to replenish food shelves serving the thousands of families of government and private sector workers affected by the shutdown. A drive organized by the Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council in Rochester raised enough money for 5,000 meals.

State-funded construction projects were stopped because of the shutdown, adding to an already dismal employment picture for Minnesota construction workers. Minnesota Building Trades leaders have been advocating the bonding bill that Dayton is proposing to put more people back to work.

Laid-off state workers still on hold

More than 20,000 state employees have been laid off since July 1 as the shutdown continues. In a statement on its website, AFSCME said a Memorandum of Understanding outlines the process for them to go back on the job.

"Once the legislature is in special session, both the House and Senate must pass identical bills, which then go to the governor for his signature. After that happens, members begin returning to work and the shutdown ends.

"According to the Memorandum of Understanding between the state, AFSCME and other state employee unions, laid-off employees will be called back to the same job they held before the shutdown.

"Employees will receive a written, oral or electronic recall notice. Once they receive the notice, they must report back to work within three working days of the recall date."

Barb Kucera is editor of Workday Minnesota, where this article originally appeared. Photo: The Capitol is quiet. By Michael Hicks // CC 2.0

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