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MnDOT workers worry over possible shutdown

Local state employees have been watching the capitol as the budget impasse continued Friday. A Duluth labor demonstration was part of a statewide effort on Tuesday to call attention to the possible shutdown and its impact on workers and the publi...

Local state employees have been watching the capitol as the budget impasse continued Friday.
   A Duluth labor demonstration was part of a statewide effort on Tuesday to call attention to the possible shutdown and its impact on workers and the public.
The political logjam in St. Paul has the clock running down on budget negotiations. If an agreement was not reached by June 30, all nonessential state services could stop, forcing the layoff of thousands of state employees.
In addition, just the threat of a shutdown has disrupted contract negotiations between the state and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"Our contract expires June 30," said John McGovern, president of AFSCME Local 695, which represents 202 MnDOT employees. "Negotiations started in November. They cannot continue unless there's a state budget."
Over all, AFSCME Council 6 represents 18,704 state employees. In the Northland, members also work for UMD, the Department of Natural Resources, health and human services, the state college system and other agencies.
In addition to the demonstration at Duluth MNDOT, pickets were scheduled to be out at the Virginia MnDOT, Grand Rapids and Cloquet DNR, Gooseberry State Park, Silver Bay Veterans Home and the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in Moose Lake. Union organizers hoped to have marches at 65 sites.
"It's unfair to hold state employees hostage in the budget debate," said Peter Brenner, Council 6 executive director. "Many of the state employees represented by AFSCME face layoffs if a budget agreement doesn't pass by the end of the fiscal year."
McGovern said that in anticipation of the shutdown, some contractors have already stopped road construction projects and others are being put on hold.
"It's a complex issue," he said. "If we can't avert the shutdown, a lot of services will stop."
"They have our support," said MnDOT spokesperson Maureen Talarico. "Hopefully, they'll get a fair contract, and we'll avoid a shutdown.
But if state government does stop, it will also put the brakes on about 20 road projects in northeastern Minnesota.
McGovern said the MnDOT complex on Mesabi Avenue in Duluth was selected for the rush hour demonstration to get the word out to the public. He said residents should call their lawmakers and insist on a settlement.
In anticipation of a shutdown, the state has published a Memorandum of Understanding with AFSCME and a half dozen other unions. It spells out the terms of the layoff and options for employees to use accrued time-off or leave time to collect pay during the shutdown.
"It would have a significant impact on county services," said administrator David Twa, regarding the effect of a state shutdown on St. Louis County. "The greatest impact would be on social services and the health department."
In addition, during July, the county is scheduled to receive about $14.4 million in state payments that could get tied up.

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