Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 8, 2001

Effects of state strike trickle into McLeod County

By Gail Lipe

Many state employees belonging to the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) unions did not report to work the morning of Oct. 1 because a contract agreement had not been reached.

According the StarTribune, nearly 28,000 employees were eligible to join the strike, which is primarily over wages and benefits.

The average AFSCME salary is $30,000 a year, and the average for MAPE is approximately $49,000.

The state's last offer to MAPE was a one-time wage increase of 4 percent on Jan. 22 after MAPE had requested a 4.5 percent increase each year.

The state's last offer to AFSCME was a wage increase of 3 percent each year. The union sought 5 percent each year.

Another issue is the cost of health care for the employees. According to a letter from MAPE, the increase in insurance, based on the state's proposed coverage, will cost the average MAPE member about 20 percent more over the next two years.

For most people, life goes on as usual, even with the state employees on strike. Some things in McLeod County may take a little longer to accomplish, but few things are gone completely.

One of the things gone completely is the ability to take the driver permit tests or driver license tests. According to Karen Konerza at the licensing bureau in Glencoe, people can renew their driver's license, purchase tabs for their car or transfer a title. But permit tests and license tests are out.

The other business is done the same way as it has been, but Konerza said the licensing bureau gives a Zerox copy of the title transfer to the person transferring the title. She said it will serve as proof of the title being transferred until the title is sent out from the state, which may be a long time from now.

She also said that transferring a title a second time will not be possible until the title is received from the state. If someone purchases a car and wants to sell it right away, it would not work.

Processing at the state level will back up, said Konerza. She said renewal cards will not be sent out, so people need to pay attention to the renewal date themselves. When someone wants to renew their license tabs, Konerza said a renewal card can be printed at the license bureau to do it.

Another service that will be discontinued during the strike is the WorkForce Center in Hutchinson. The WorkForce Center staff helps people locate jobs, file for unemployment and answers questions about employment.

According to the Minnesota Department of Economic Security, the Workforce Center in Hutchinson is closed due to the work stoppage by MAPE and AFSCME state employees.

Applications for unemployment benefits and continued requests for payment of unemployment benefits will be processed during the strike. To avoid delays, it is recommended that unemployed people file for benefits on-line at www.mnwfc.org/ui/index.htm or call the TeleClaim telephone number at 651-296-3644 or 1-877-898-9090.

WorkForce centers in Litchfield, Willmar, St. Cloud, New Ulm and Shakopee also will be open.

With the WorkForce Center in Hutchinson being closed, it could potentially affect students at Ridgewater College, according to Mike Boehme, president of the college.

Boehme said the college has a placement center of its own, but those employees also are on strike.

He said the students will be affected minimally by the strike. All support staff, both administrative and instructional, are eligible to strike. So are the custodians and the computer technical and support specialists.

"All classes are still in operation," he said. The faculty and administration are at the school, and some adjustments have been made, including cutting hours in the book store and test center. The book store and test centers will only be open for four hours each day, instead of the full day.

He said the food service and child care are through private vendors, so those services will be unaffected.

Nan Crary, McLeod County administrator, said discussions were held with the county department heads in preparation for the strike. She said services with the state will continue because adjustments have been made by shifting around non-striking employees, but the services may be on a different timetable.

The strike may affect the flow of the county court. Bob Schmidt, McLeod County court administrator, said things like psychological evaluations that are normally done at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center or the hospital in St. Peter may not be completed because of striking staff.

He also said pre-sentence investigations, which are done by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC), may not get done.

There also is an interactive TV, which is used for civil commitments, including chemical dependency or mentally ill commitments, is non-functioning, he said. That means the commitments will no longer be done off site, and people will have to travel to the courthouse.

The county also contracts with the state DOC to provide probation agents to the county. According to Dan O'Brian, from the state DOC, there are MAPE employees in both the county probation office and the DOC office in Glencoe.

He said a strike contingency plan went into affect and is proceeding well. "Supervisory staff, managers and non-striking employees will be used to meet the court's needs as best we can," he said.

"We don't have a total picture yet," he said. "The state has chosen to wait 24 hours to see who has chosen to strike and who is reporting to work."

The priority work will have to be done first, he said, which includes supervising offenders who present the most risk. Other things will take a little longer.

Captain Bonnie Case said the jail employees are county employees, not part of the striking unions. She said the strike could impact the jail because the sentence-to-service program crew leaders are state employees.

She also said jail employees are considered essential employees, which means they cannot strike. The law enforcement officers and dispatchers also are considered essential employees.

Other affected services will show up as time goes on.

According to the StarTribune, state parks, trails and public lake access points will be open, but with fewer programs. Fall hunting seasons will continue as planned, and Department of Natural Resources conservation officers will remain on duty.

Approximately 1,000 National Guard members and 700 non-striking state employees have been trained to care for patients at state hospitals, sex offender facilities, group homes and nursing and veterans homes.

Classes will continue at state colleges and universities, but many employees could walk out, affecting groundskeeping, janitorial upkeep, food service and administrative services.

The health department plans to reserve resources for the most critical functions, such as disease outbreaks. There may not be enough staff for all restaurant and food safety inspections.

The ability to process evidence at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension crime lab will be slower, but state troopers and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators will not be on strike. State prison guards also are prohibited from striking.

Routine highway maintenance will be curtailed, but road construction projects are privately contracted and will not be affected.

The Minnesota Zoo will be closed, and managers will be caring for the animals.


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