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Paynesville Press - September 26, 2001

State strike may affect local services

By Linda Stelling

If state employees go on strike next week, area residents will not be able to obtain a driver's license at city hall, the work on Highway 55 would be stopped, and a burning ban would go into effect for the entire state.

The strike was supposed to start in mid-September, but the state and leaders of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) postponed mediation because of the terrorist attack in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Their mediation meeting was postponed for two weeks. Now if the state and the unions don't reach an agreement over the last three days of negotiations (Sept. 27-29), the strike will start at 6 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 1.

The main disagreement is over wages, with the state offering a 2.5 percent increase and the unions holding out for a 6.5 percent raise. "We have squeezed by for so long, it's time to take a stand," said Don Dinndorf, a spokesman for AFSCME. Members of his union don't want to go on strike, especially now with the national crisis, he added.

AFSCME represents the front-line workers at the state and county levels, according to Dinndorf. MAPE represents workers in management positions, such as engineers and road designers.

Together the two unions represent more than 30,000 people - approximately 57 percent of the state workforce.

Affected by the strike will be state park employees, groundskeepers, road maintenance workers, state building maintenance workers, chemical dependency counselors, secretaries, clerical support people, nurses, lab technicians, and corrections officers.

If the strike occurs, a number of Paynesville residents who work for the state will be on the picket lines. The local maintenance garage will not be operating. Paynesville has five Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) employees who work in town and live in the area.

The work on Highway 55 - although not done by state workers - will not be done, acccording to Tom Ettle, a MnDOT highway maintenance employee, who said the contractors on the project have voiced their support of the strike and will respect the picket lines. These workers will go to another job in Wisconsin until the strike is over.

National Guardsmen are being trained to replace the striking medical staff at state hospitals.

And the public will have to do without some services. For instance, the driving testers who come to city hall will not be available, so no new driver's licenses will be available. City employee Rhonda Hunt said the city's motor vehicle department would not have written permit tests or behind-the-wheel-tests if the examiners go on strike.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued a statewide burning ban if the strike goes into effect. Only companies with industrial permits will be allowed to burn during the statewide ban.

Jim Freilinger, Paynesville Fire Department Chief, said the state ban supercedes local restrictions. Local fire wardens will not be able to issue burning permits during the strike. Any permit already issued - but not used - would be void.

In the case of a peat fire, the local department would normally call on the Department of Natural Resources for assistance, which would not be available during the strike.

Freilinger's day job is as a fertilizer inspector for the state, and he will be on strike as well.

State inspectors are used in a variety of industries, but their impact might not be so great unless the strike really lasts a while.

Dairy inspectors visit the AMPI plant in town, but Matt Quade, plant manager, said the plant will be able to operate as usual because their plant is inspected quarterly, and they were inspected a little more than a month ago.

If the strike would extend into their next inspection period, they would still operate; the inspectors work load would be backlogged.

Grocery stores are also inspected but both local stores reported recent inspections.

Dave Voss of Voss Plumbing and Heating said the strike could affect their plumbing projects as they need a plan review by the state board. The state has only five plumbing inspectors in the state.

Some state employees have been classified as essential workers and will not be going on strike, including prison guards, game wardens, and law enforcement officers.

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