New York rescuers support strikers as talks resume

Ben Goessling

After eight days of standing on picket lines, Minnesota’s 22,000 striking union workers anticipate some relief.

Negotiations between union and state officials will recommence Thursday at 1 p.m., and both sides said they are tired and hope the stalemate will break. But union and state officials said Tuesday breaking new ground will be difficult.

“We’re going into this hopeful,” said Don Dinndorf, a spokesman for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We’re willing to negotiate, but we’re not willing to capitulate.”

Although negotiations are imminent and an end could be near, AFSCME and MAPE workers scheduled a rally at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the Capitol steps, in which emergency medical technicians from New York’s ground zero are expected to attend. The New York workers are also AFSCME members.

Annette Wilkinson, a MAPE employee and information technology specialist, said the union received a letter from firemen and EMTs in New York after the governor’s visit last week: “At the end, the punch line was: We’re here mourning our dead, you guys fight like hell for the living.”

Some AFSCME and Minnesota Association of Public Employees strikers said Tuesday they would accept the state’s wage increase as long as the administration improved their health care options – a different deal than the unions’ offer during September negotiations.

But state officials said their offer would not change significantly because the funds are not available for the unions’ desired wage increases or health care benefits.

“Our position has been: Our best offer is on the table,” said John Wodele, Gov. Jesse Ventura’s spokesman.

Wodele said Julien Carter, commissioner of the Department of Employee Relations, is “working hard to develop something that will look different.”

The state offered AFSCME a 3 percent wage increase for the next two years and MAPE a one-time 4 percent wage increase during September negotiations.

The state is also switching health care providers, which union workers said could set some employees back as much as $3,000 a year in co-payments.

If the state improves its health care offer, “I think AFSCME are willing to accept three and three,” said Debbie Lerdahl, an AFSCME employee who works in the administration building.

MAPE director Jim Monroe said he is “cautiously optimistic” about Thursday’s meeting. “I’m not seeing good things from the administration’s public statements,” he said.

Carter could not be reached for comment but said in a statement Tuesday he hopes for a quick resolution. “We are ready to meet anytime and anywhere to talk about the allocation of available resources,” he said.

 

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