MN Legislature: Respect Public Employees, Invest in Minnesotans

Rick Neyssen is a member of AFSCME Local 599, Council 5 and works at the St. Cloud Correctional Facility. Rick has been serving the people of Minnesota in this capacity for 28 years. Front line workers and public employees are being pushed to their maximum capacity, all while they face the risk of bringing COVID-19 back to their families. They need leaders to stand by their side and fight to improve our workplaces and communities. The Minnesota legislative session began last week, so be on the look out for calls to action from us!

At an event on Friday, January 8, 2021, Rick and St. Cloud-area community leaders held a virtual town hall meeting with Senator Aric Putnam and Rep. Dan Wolgamott and he shared the following story -

"My co-workers and I have been on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 from the beginning. We have been doing our best to keep the inmates of the correctional facility and each other safe from the virus. Our jobs require us to leave our homes and every time we do we risk our health and the safety of our families. We don’t know if simply doing our job will lead to us to bringing the virus back to our homes to infect our loved ones.

"Since we had our first case of COVID in May, our facility has experienced 745 positive cases of COVID-19. Staff have had 143 positive cases. Thankfully most of us have recovered and we haven’t had any deaths among inmates or staff, but other facilities have had some deaths. Just last week, a third client at the Moose Lake Sex Offender Program passed away due to COVID-19 and there have been 9 deaths in correctional facilities statewide.

"When the pandemic first started to get really bad in Minnesota, the contract for state employees was working its way through the legislature. The Republican-led State Senate decided that they wanted to cut the pay increase portion of the contract that we had bargained in good faith. They were told repeatedly, both in committees and on the floor, that they couldn’t change or amend the contract because that is not a legal procedure for the legislature to perform. They could either vote yes or no. Despite this, they voted to pass our contracts but to include pay cuts.

"The Governor and then-Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, Myron Frans, interpreted that vote as ratification, and our contracts were put into effect as we negotiated. Since then, we’ve gone back to work, working through some of the most challenging dilemmas in my time with the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Like everyone else, life has been really tough over this past year. In my facility alone we have had two major outbreaks, and some of our coworkers will have health complications from COVID that will affect them for the rest of their lives. So what does the GOP do as we are finally getting close to receiving the vaccine, and hopefully returning to something more normal? Senator Mark Koran and Representative Marion O’Neill filed a lawsuit to invalidate our contracts, take away our pay, and violate longstanding collective bargaining law.

"We reject the notion that our state does not have the resources to pay agreed upon wages and benefits to employees, not when corporations and the rich have continued to accumulate wealth at the expense of their workers

"The attacks on public employees must stop now. We need our elected officials to support working people, the work of public employees and the critical services we provide for all Minnesotans. We feel under-appreciated by elected officials who often put politics above what is right for Minnesotans. The last thing we need is to be looking over our shoulder worried about the legislature cutting our wages, making our healthcare more expensive or making our staffing levels less safe while we continue to "Make Minnesota Happen."

"To all Minnesota Legislators and elected officials, the question is: Will you work with us to support new revenue and invest in state agency budgets for safe staffing and affordable healthcare, and what new revenue sources do you support to ensure we can fund the needs of working families and our communities? Public employees will be paying close attention to your actions."