Ventura backs state offer as strike continues

Liz Kohman

Union members bundled in sweat shirts and gloves held picket signs for the fourth day of a strike union members said could last as long as a month.

Negotiations between Minnesota’s two largest unions and the state stalemated last weekend, prompting the largest union strike in the last 20 years.

State mediators said they are unsure when they will call both sides back for talks, but members of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6 said they hope the strike will end soon.

“We’re visiting with parties on a daily basis,” said Patrick Harrington, mediation unit director. Harrington said neither party is ready to talk, and it’s impossible to know when they will be ready.

“Predicting how parties will react is one of the challenges of negotiation,” Harrington said.

Gov. Jesse Ventura said Thursday on KSTP-AM he supports the state’s offer to unions.

“It’s a tough time,” he said. “We’re going to war. In war, everyone has to bite the bullet a bit.”

The unions have a combined membership of more than 29,000 workers, and 27,206 of those members are eligible to strike. The Department of Employee Relations reported 3,486 eligible employees went to work in state agencies Monday.

State officials remain uncertain about how the strike will affect the economy.

State economist Tom Stinson said it’s premature to speculate on the economic effects of striking.

John Wodele, Ventura’s spokesman, said predicting the strike’s effects on the economy is a “guessing game,” but guessed a strike lasting two to three weeks wouldn’t have a large impact on the economy.

Meanwhile, strikers said they are willing to wait.

Aaron Olson, who has worked in the Secretary of State’s office for 13 years, said he expects the strike to last for at least two weeks. Olson said the public doesn’t understand why workers are striking, especially following last month’s terrorist attacks.

“It’s hard for us to go on strike after the attacks,” Olson said. “Most of us are feeling very sheepish.”

Celina Aguilera, an administrative worker for the Department of Transportation, said she is staying on the picket line.

“However long it takes, I will not cross the line,” she said. “But that’s just my choice.”

Aguilera said she understands the workers who have to cross the picket line to support their families. “My sister went to work for the state because she needs more income,” she said.

Outside the Capitol on University Avenue, strikers marched in a circle shouting, “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Governor Ventura’s got to go.”

Jan Nelson, a computer support worker who’s worked for the state for 16 years, said she hoped the strikes wouldn’t last into cold weather, but she isn’t worried about striking in the cold: “We’re hardy Minnesotans.”

Nelson said she is considering a job in the private sector if the strike continues.

“I’ve heard my skills are in demand,” she said. “I guess we’ll see.”

The AFSCME unions at the University reached a tentative agreement Sept. 27 with the institution’s administration. Union members are expected to vote on the agreements sometime this month.

The University is still negotiating with the Teamsters. Two more meetings are scheduled for Oct. 11 and Oct. 12.

 

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

Liz Kohman welcomes comments at [email protected]