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The strike begins
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
October 1, 2001

The largest state employee strike in Minnesota history - the first in 20 years - began Monday morning, when as many as 28,000 members of the state's two largest employee unions walked out. That's more than half of the state's workforce. Leaders of AFSCME and MAPE authorized the strike after contract talks with the state broke down over the weekend.

Danette Allrich, who handles MinnesotaCare applications for the Department of Human Services, leads a group of protesters at a Capitol rally Monday. She's a single mom who says she's scared to death, but is determined to try to get a better contract.

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• •Audio: Midmorning discusses the strike (10/1)
Audio:Midday - Department of Administration Commissioner David Fisher
Janitors, food inspectors, accountants and highway workers hit the picket lines at 6 a.m., and later in the morning, hundreds of striking workers rallied in front of the Capitol.

Members of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6 say they'll walk the picket line as long as it takes to get a better offer from the state.

Danette Allrich, who handles MinnesotaCare applications at the Department of Human Services, says as a single mother who just bought a house, she's scared to death about the strike. But Allrich says she's energized because she believes in the unions' cause. "This isn't about getting a raise, or Jesse not being fair," she said. "It's about health care being extremely expensive, it's about people that have worked here longer, haven't gotten raises in a long time. It's about unity."

While Allrich may not hold Gov. Jesse Ventura personally responsible, plenty of other union members do blame the governor for the impasse. Ventura canceled all public appearances, citing a bad hip, and on Tuesday will head to New York for two days.

Spokesman John Wodele says the governor believes there's nothing more he can say at this point, because the state put its best offer on the table. Wodele says the `Where's Jesse?' chant is wearing thin. "They're following in the steps of the Legislature. 'Gov. Ventura's not engaged, blah blah blah blah blah.' Well, he's one of the most accomplished governors in the history of this state. Gov. Ventura produces. He is engaged. He has been directing this negotiation. He has provided leadership," Wodele said.

Wodele says the governor is convinced that he's doing the right thing by not offering the unions more than the Legislature provided, especially in an economic slowdown. The state's latest offer to AFSCME is a three-percent pay raise in each of the next two years, while AFSCME is asking for annual five-percent increases. The state offered MAPE a one-time four-percent raise, while MAPE is asking for 9.6 percent over two years.

State and union officials are still trying to determine exactly how many workers walked off the job, preliminary reports from some state agencies found about a quarter of the employees eligible to strike showed up for work.

Picket lines went up at the offices of state agencies throughout Minnesota. These striking workers are on patrol in Moorhead.
(MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson)

Administration Commissioner David Fisher says state officials are encouraged that some employees are choosing to cross the picket line. When we looked at the 1981 strike, something like 90 to 95 percent, first day, were out on strike. So it is a difference from at least what we saw 20 years ago," according to Fischer.

Those numbers may change as the strike continues. AFSCME Council 6 Executive Director Peter Benner says some people who walked the picket line the first day may decide to go back to work. "There'll be other people that went in the first day or two, see how damn lonely it is, and decide they ought to be out there with their co-workers," Benner said.

No further talks are scheduled, although union leaders say they'll be in daily contact with state negotiators and mediators. State agencies and union members have been told to prepare for a month-long strike.

Related Links
AFSCME Council 6 Web site
Minnesota Association of Professional Employees
State of Minnesota