You are here

Why Union?

A tale of two states (or what MAPE did for us)

By John LaBreche
Member of Local 1301

It wasn’t the best of times; but it wasn’t the worst of times either, thanks to our union, MAPE.

Here’s how it began
Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (Democrat) and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (Republican) leave office at the end of 2010. Wisconsin has a budget deficit of $137 million for the first half of 2011 and a projected deficit of $3.6 billion for the 2012-13 biennium. Minnesota has a projected deficit for 2012-13 of $5 billion, fourth highest in the nation as a percentage of the general fund.

Wisconsin goes solid red, Minnesota saved by 9,000 votes
As a result of the 2010 election, Republicans take control of both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature. Republican Scott Walker defeats Tom Barrett for the governorship by 5 percent. In Minnesota, Republicans win control of both houses for the first time in 40 years. MAPE-PAC endorses Democrat Mark Dayton and he wins the governor’s race by just 9,000 votes.

Impact on 2011-12 legislative sessions
Gov. Walker introduces legislation in February of 2011 (Budget Repair Act or “Act 10”) that strips away the collective bargaining power of non-law enforcement public workers on pensions, health care costs and work rules; but not wages (within cost-of-living benchmarks). The bill also increases pension and health care obligations of public employees, forces public employee unions (except police, firefighters and state troopers) to hold annual elections to remain certified. It also eliminates the ability of workers to deduct union dues from state paychecks. Walker rejects compromises offered by unions, Democrats and even a Republican state senator. Despite protests, the Wisconsin Legislature passes the bill on party line votes.

In Minnesota, Republican legislators introduce 23 bills affecting state employees. Rep. Keith Downey, announcing that he wanted “to strangle the beast” of public worker rolls, introduces a bill to cut state employee numbers and costs by 15 percent by 2015, plus a pay freeze. He and Rep. Steve Drazkowski and Sen. Dave Hann introduce proposals to amend the Minnesota Constitution to make it a “right-to-work” state.

Sen. Hann says in March that he does not believe public employees ought to unionize at all. He introduces a bill to abolish the current state employee health plan (SEGIP), and replace it with a high deductible plan, move employees to health savings accounts and eliminate state contributions to health premium costs. Former Gov. Pawlenty says on Feb. 11, 2011, that “the gig is up for public employee groups who demand better benefits than the taxpayers who are paying the bill.” Senate Republicans pass a bill to increase state employee contributions to our pension (MSRS) by 3 percent, while reducing the state match by the same percentage.

The Minnesota Legislature in April 2011 passes bills on party-line votes to freeze state employee salaries for two years, convert SEGIP to high deductible health plans, and reduce state employee numbers and costs by 15 percent. Gov. Dayton vetoes these bills. He and the Legislature deadlock on the budget, shutting down state government in Minnesota for three weeks and costing 19,000 state employees $65 million.

Wisconsin holds several recall elections of state legislators, and a razor-thin Supreme Court election, as well as court appeals that are decided by the judges on party-line votes. In May, Gov. Walker decrees “State Employee Recognition Day.” By the end of 2011, Wisconsin has lost 46,000 union members, mostly in the public sector.

In March of 2012, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, since December 2010, Wisconsin has the worst job creation record in the United States. Wisconsin lost a net 10,000 jobs, while Minnesota gained 48,000 jobs during the same period. Three months later, Gov. Walker again defeats Democrat Barrett in a recall election by 53 to 46 percent.

Our 2011-13 contract
Thirty-one thousand Minnesota state employees accept a new contract in August 2012 to replace the previous one that expired June 30, 2011. The MAPE contract contains a 2 percent across-the-board pay increase (the first in 3½ years) plus performance-based step increases of 2.7 to 3.5 percent for eligible employees. The contract shifts $7.9 million in health care costs to employees, (copays, deductibles and co-insurance), but continues free premiums for employees, and the state continues to pay 85 percent of family member premiums.

The contracts go before the Republican-controlled Legislative Subcommittee on Employee Relations. Subcommittee members Downey, Mike Benson and Drazkowski write an editorial in the Star Tribune attacking the contracts for granting state employees “free health insurance,” “automatic pay increases” for all employees and claiming that private sector employees pay 25 to 50 percent of their health care costs. (Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on July 26, 2011, that employers in the private sector overall paid 80 percent of single coverage health insurance benefits and 69 percent of family coverage.) The subcommittee rejects the contracts on a party-line vote.

Wisconsin stays solid red, Minnesota goes solid blue
As a result of the 2012 election, Wisconsin Republicans retain control of both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature. The Minnesota DFL wins control of both houses of the Minnesota Legislature. In February of 2013, the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Dayton approve the previously rejected contracts with MAPE and other state employee unions, through June 30, 2013, with a retroactive 2 percent across-the-board pay increase to Jan. 2, 2013.

Economies: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
Minnesota ranked 12th * in the nation in job creation in 2012, while Wisconsin ranked 42nd.** In February 2013, Louis Johnston, economics professor at the College of St Benedict and St John’s University, compared Wisconsin’s economy to that of Minnesota:

$39,575Per capita personal income (2011)$44,560
$35,359Per capita disposable (after tax) income (2011)$39,257
6.6%Current unemployment rate (Dec 2012) 5.5%
124 jobsCivilian employment growth (monthly average since June 2009)2,390 jobs

*Governor Mark Dayton’s State of the State Address, Feburary 2013, quoted by Mary Bottari Feb. 11, 2013, at PR Watch for the Center for Media and Democracy.

**U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported by John Schmid in the Jan. 8, 2013, issue of Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee).