A House committee gave a narrow, party-line approval to a bill that would restrict the extension of public-employee contract provisions after a contract reaches its expiration date.

The House State Government Finance Committee voted 10-9 to approve a bill offered by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, that was criticized by DFLers and supported by Republicans. Republicans provided all the "yes" votes and all DFLers voted "no."

Drazkowski said the bill essentially freezes pay and employers' contributions for insurance once a contract expires, as the unions and the government employer continue to work on a new agreement. It states that no wage or salary increases, or increases in the amount of employers' contribution to insurance, can occur during this period.

It would mean, for example, that so-called "steps and lanes" increases in teachers' contracts, which provide additional pay for experience and education, could not be granted after the contract expired, and until a new contract was in effect.

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, said such changes to the state's public-employee bargaining process are needed. "We have to unlock our people from a process and a structure that is not good for them or for us," he said.

In opposing the bill, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, questioned the theory that the collective bargaining system is broken. He said the biggest job disruption was caused not by workers but by the 20-day state shutdown during a budget standoff between the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton last summer.

"That was caused by the Legislature, and now we're saying the collective-bargaining system is flawed," Winkler said.

While union officials opposed the bill, supporters include the League of Minnesota Cities, the Minnestota School Boards Association and the Minnesota Inter-County Association.

The bill now goes to the House floor.


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