Oh man, we're going to miss him.
by Aaron Klemz
Aug 30, 2012, 6:00 PM

Republicans reject contracts in Parry’s last hurrah

In what might be his last time holding the gavel, Sen. Mike Parry demonstrated the same inimitable bombast that caused CD1 voters to prefer the Yoda of Crazy, Allen Quist. The red-faced, sputtering, glaring Commodore did get his way. But hopefully, today we saw the last hurrah for the silly, petty, and ignorant “leadership” of this Republican legislature.

The end result surprised no one. Co-chairs Parry and Rep. Steve Drazkowski led their Republican colleagues to reject two state employee contracts Thursday on a 6-4 party line vote. It was such a foregone conclusion that Sen. James Metzen (DFL – S. St. Paul) interrupted to ask why Parry would bother outlining the contract when everybody knew it was going to end in a 6-4 vote. Then, when a motion to approve the contracts failed on a 6-4 vote, he declared loudly, “I was right!”

Here are the reasons the six Republicans on the Subcommittee on Employee Relations found fault with the AFSCME and MAPE contracts:

a) The proposed contracts do not incorporate changes to the health insurance program that would make them more comparable to those in the private sectors.  The initial rounds of negotiation for these two proposed contracts included the discussion of a 10% employee premium. Employees should be required to contribute a measurable portion toward their monthly premium. The final agreements failed to recognize this key element;
b) The proposed contracts provide conventional across the board and step increases.  Salary increases are only appropriate if they are based on a rigorous evaluation of the employee’s performance related to the employee’s goals, the performance of the employee’s program, and the performance of the agency toward meeting its outcomes.

Let’s look at these two “arguments.”

The health care benefits that Parry, Drazkowski and others criticize are the very same benefits they receive as state legislators. On one hand, I suppose you could commend them for proposing to cut their own benefits. On the other hand, listening to the Republicans declare that state employees have a Cadillac health care plan without acknowledging that they get identical benefits is maddening. This is especially true when the ringleader, Sen. Parry, says that legislative salaries are too low and that he needs to take the full per diem available.

Drazkowski elaborated on the need for employee capitulation to paying large sums out of pocket for health care in a press conference after the vote. The 10% figure mentioned in the resolution above is just the beginning. As Drazkowski said: “We have to change the approach. We have to bring a 10 or a 20 or a 25 or 30 percent skin in the game if you will to employees so that they can help share that cost…”

Attacking the health care benefits of these two bargaining units implicates all union negotiations. The SEGIP (State Employee Group Insurance Plan) health care process harmonizes the health care benefits for all state employees (union and nonunion.) In a sense, AFSCME and MAPE “went first.” They were not receiving “special” health care benefits that exceed other state employees. Since the subcommittee rejected these contracts on the basis of the health care benefits, the action will freeze all contract negotiations, since no union will negotiate salaries without knowing the out-of-pocket costs for employees.

Second, the objections to using “steps” or providing across the board increases would completely reshape all public employee contracts. The seniority-based compensation system in union contracts has issues, but it is the bedrock of the compensation model in public service. Drazkowski’s not requesting a minor tweak to the proposed contracts, he’s literally blowing up the entire model of compensation.

Negotiating a different model is possible, but extremely difficult and time consuming. It’s also something that four Pawlenty-era contracts didn’t even sniff at. Why? Because it’s easy to say “pay for performance” and extremely difficult to design a system that isn’t simply a “I’m in charge and what I say you get paid goes” system.

You see, what Parry, Drazkowski and Republicans want is not a fair settlement, they want an imposed settlement on their terms. And that, in a nutshell, is the Republican definition of “negotiation.” Parry called for state employees to ditch their leaders, whom he called “dinosaurs.” Somehow, I’m guessing that the actions of the Republicans today make that even less likely.

If you haven’t seen the comments of Rep. Leon Lillie in response to this charade, you owe yourself the 3 minutes to watch him (via the Uptake) eviscerate Parry and Drazkowski.

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