State employees ready to get back to work, but concerned about dealby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The budget framework Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders announced Thursday leaves many unanswered questions for roughly 22,000 laid off state workers.
Employees should be able to return to their jobs within days, but they are concerned about what the budget agreement means for them.
The deal came after a three-hour negotiating session Thursday that followed major concessions by Dayton. If budget details are worked out and approved by state legislators, the agreement would end the shutdown, which enters its third week today.
The two sides agreed on a proposal that would generate $1.4 billion in revenue, without raising taxes.
Unions representing state employees declined to comment on the proposal for the time being, citing the lack of detail. Nonetheless, broad outlines reveal a mixed bag for state employees.
Mike Lang of Cottage Grove oversees job service programs at workforce centers for the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Lang is pleased a GOP plan to cut the state employee workforce by 15 percent appears to be discarded, but he fears there could still be significant job cuts. The agreement will trim state spending from the levels that current law mandates.
"I'm excited to get back to work," Lang said. "I'm anxious about what kind of cuts might be coming out of this deal."
"I'm wondering what that might look like if it's not 15 percent, if we could still see a large reduction," Lang said. "Because my biggest concern is the reduction or elimination of certain state services and loss of jobs."
He also wonders if he might receive compensation for the time he was laid off and not collecting a paycheck during the shutdown.
"I'm hoping we can take sick leave or vacation time to make up this time we lost," Lang said.
Some employees expect to take a hit for lost workdays. There's been no mention from government to provide laid-off workers with back-pay.
"I wouldn't expect back-pay since I wasn't working," said Kathy Strauch of Cottage Grove. "That's not a concern for me. I would understand that."
Strauch works for the Department of Natural Resources. She was caught by off-guard when some 22,000 state employees were laid off.
"I didn't think we were even going to go out," Strauch said. "I thought they would come to their senses and realize it's going to hurt not just state employees."
For Strauch, the big issue is the proposal to reduce the state workforce by 15, something that Dayton has negotiated to drop.
"The departments — a lot of them are already understaffed and the people working there are the ones that have to fill in," Strauch said.
Some employees said the deal struck by Dayton and Republican leaders doesn't confront underlying long-term budgetary problems.
"It just kicks the can down the road," said Ginny Black of Plymouth, who works for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
"We didn't solve a single problem, other than to turn the lights back on," Black said. "So, we'll be facing this issue again, probably next session. But for sure in the next budget cycle session, which would be two years from now."
Black expected a better solution, in light of the pain caused by the shutdown.
As it stands, some 22,000 state employees will soon returning to work, along with thousands of private-sector workers who were laid off because their jobs depended on state funding or spending.