Jun 21, 2019 3:19:45 PM

Here is the eagerly awaited final chapter in MMA's creation!

Topics: MMA History

Getting Ready

Part 3 of MMA's History

     By early 1981, MMA had successfully organized State Supervisors, won an election and been certified as the exclusive representative for all State supervisors. But as the shine of its election win faded, MMA faced the daunting task of bargaining a first contract for these 2700 supervisors, working in 30 departments, with 8 different pay grids, and covering 400 job classifications. Their working conditions varied tremendously too. A large number were in 24/7 operations like Vets Homes, Correction facilities, and the Regional Treatment Centers, where night and weekend work shifts were part of the norm. Other supervisors didn’t spend much time in an office as they worked in the field or on the road, and so they too had different issues.

     Though managing the integration of all this into one contract was to present plenty of difficulties, I believed that our biggest challenge would be to get a wage settlement, which while at least matching the pattern achieved by other State Unions for the 1981-1983 contract period, would also add another 7-8% in wages for the 2500 non MNDOT supervisors that were new to bargaining. This extra wage was needed so that the non MNDOT supervisors could catch up to the MNDOT supervisors. After all, in campaigning to urge supervisors to vote for MMA in the election, one fact we put front and center in meetings and mailings was our arbitration success in 1979 in getting MNDOT supervisors an extra 7%-8% over and above what any other State employee had gotten that year. We didn’t know exactly how significant this was to the election support we ultimately received but it felt that this issue and our status as an independent unaffiliated union made the difference. So it was adopted as an imperative that we make up that wage difference somehow.

     By late December 1980, we had formed a bargaining team, and prepared initial bargaining proposals. Our bargaining team fairly represented the diversity of the unit with the following members:
     Gene Aune Negotiation Committee Chair (MMA President)
     Jeanne Chasteen DOT (MMA 1st VP)
     Doyle Royal DHS (MMA 2nd VP)
     Emil Anderson Commerce (MMA Secretary)
     Carl Pearson Revenue (MMA Treasurer)
     Bill Martin Public Safety
     Dick Underdahl DOT
     Dennis Anderson Corrections
     Don Sahlen Revenue
     Gerry Kragness DHS
     Roger Liska DNR

     The State Governor at the time was Al Quie. the Commissioner of the Department of Employee Relations was Barbara Sundquist, the State Negotiator was James Geissner and the Assistant State negotiator sent to bargain with MMA and who would lead the State Negotiating team was Nancy McClure.

     The State had in place several contracts covering various AFSCME bargaining units and others, and we made the decision early to use many of these existing contract provisions as a starting point in our proposals. We did draft different and unique language in those cases where we felt it was important to do it differently for supervisors. With so much at stake and so much time needed on wage issues, and layoff and overtime provisions too, it turned out to be a good decision that we started this way, as it was soon to become clear that while the State was agreeable to giving us the standard State employee benefit packages and much of the standard but important other language, it had a very different idea than we did regarding layoff, overtime and discipline rights for supervisors. Resolving these difficult issues was to take much time and energy.

     Bargaining commenced on January 16, 1981, with first proposals. MMA’s first wage proposal was for a general increase of 18% in year 1 (starting July 1981), and 16% in year 2 (starting July 1982). While the magnitude of this wage proposal seems a little outlandish now, at the time the Country, including Minnesota, had experienced and was experiencing very high inflation. In 1980, the inflation rate was 12% and the year before that, it had been 13%. Our initial proposals also addressed the wage disparity that existed for the 2500 non MNDOT supervisors. That issue was addressed by proposing that all non MNDOT supervisory wage ranges have two steps added to the end of the ranges and that all supervisors in those ranges receive two additional steps above and beyond what they would receive under the standard progression provisions.

     While bargaining dragged on, other issues confronted the MMA. In April 1981, the State Legislature considered bills to greatly limit the number of supervisors we would represent. The right that supervisors had been given in the 1981 statutory reform was precious and we defended it in 1981 and again in 1982, as hard as we could with the Legislature ultimately leaving supervisor bargaining rights intact. But it was with the awareness of our legislative vulnerability in those early years, that I was determined, in the first contract and for some years subsequent, to reach a voluntary agreement with the State without resort to an interest arbitration. This approach would help prove to legislators that it was no mistake to give supervisors bargaining rights.

      On July 20th, 1981 AFSCME struck and 15,000 State employees walked out with picket lines established at work sites across the State. This proved to be a trying period, negotiating special memoranda to deal with the fact that supervisors in some departments were working unusual and long schedules to cover the work. This strike hit our supervisors at the Regional Treatment facilities in DHS particularly hard, with many of them not leaving work at all for several weeks but catching a few hours of sleep when they could at the facility.
Many supervisors were torn with sympathy for the strikers. I received many legal questions surrounding the strike including whether supervisors had a legal right to honor the picket lines and not work out of sympathy for the strikers, the law made it clear the answer was “no”. Supervisors at a number of work sites did what little they could to support the striking employees while staying within the law. The strike lasted 22 days, and was a hard time for everyone.
In addition, throughout the year of 1981, while we were negotiating but before we had a contract, we had a duty to represent the supervisors but we had no contract. So many “grievances” arose that had to be tended to under existing laws and State personnel provisions. One case involved a high level DNR supervisor who had been discharged and without a contract we could only resort to a State Hearing Examiner. After much preparation, 5 full days of hearing and an adverse decision by the Hearing Examiner, l certainly relearned the importance of including in our first contract sound and reliable grievance arbitration procedures to ensure fairness for supervisors caught in the State’s disciplinary machinery.

      The strike ended and AFSCME finally concluded bargaining with the State for its various bargaining units. The wage settlement agreed to was for a general increase of 7% the first year and 7.5% in the second year. This settlement then defined MMA’s wage problem precisely as our job was to get that settlement for all supervisors and an additional 7%-8% more for the 2500 non MNDOT supervisors. YIKES!!! We had pressed the wage disparity issue throughout bargaining telling the State Negotiator repeatedly at the table, and in side discussions every time we talked that no final agreement could be reached with MMA without solving this problem. The question remained, could we do it and how?
As we resolved more and more of the Contract’s content, we remained stuck on overtime (the State did not want supervisors getting any pay for overtime), layoff (the State wanted much more limited rights for supervisors than those existing for non-supervisors), and discipline. Compromises were made by all and by late fall everything was in place except a solution to the wage disparity issue.

     Finally, Nancy McClure, the State Negotiator in our bargaining, informed me privately that Governor Quie had given her the authority to make up the disparity as long as it was done within the same overall two-year wage costs that were involved with the other Unions’ settlements. When she told me this my brain lite on fire. Math was one of my strong skills and I knew immediately that I could do what we needed to do and still remain within the parameters she had just given me. I could see light at the end of the tunnel.

     With the permission of the Bargaining Team, MMA proposed back to the State that MNDOT supervisors would receive the exact overall wage settlement that AFSCME employees received which was 7% the first year (July 1st 1981) and 7.5% the second year and that for all other supervisors, not in DOT, instead of receiving the AFSCME type settlement would instead have a general adjustments divided up in 6 month segments as follows:
     5% July 1, 1981,
     5.3% January 1, 1982,
     5% July 1, 1982,
     6% July 1, 1982, 
     approximate 7% January 1, 1983.

     If adopted, this proposal would solve both our problems. And this is how; under the proposal , each group, the MNDOT supervisors and the non MNDOT supervisors, would each receive approximately the same dollar equivalent for the two years, thus satisfying the State’s requirement on costs for the two year contract. But the effect of the settlement on wage rates starting on July 1, 1983, the first day of what would be our second Contract, would be dramatically different for the two groups. By this proposal MNDOT and all other State employees would have wage rates approximately 15% higher (compounding turns a 7% increase and an added 7.5% increase into a 15% wage rate increase), but the non MNDOT supervisors, on the other hand, would have their wages and wages ranges increased on a compounded basis by approximately 23% starting July 1, 1983, and thus by July 1, 1983, would reach equity with the MNDOT supervisor wages.

     Not long after this proposal was offered, the State Negotiator came back to me privately and said if we could get this the rest of the Contract done, the State would do the wage settlement we had proposed. Work continued and with some additional compromises, all other Contract language was done. In addition to the main body of the Contract, we had made other Departmental agreements dealing with special conditions (all contained in appendices to the main body of the contract) and we had also agreed on a very large number of class inequities with more pay adjustments, the most dramatic one being for a large group of assistant group supervisor in DHS. Supervisors in that class were to receive an extra three steps added to their pay and wage range under the Contract beyond all other increases. We had many assistant group supervisors in DHS and when I told Doyle Royal, himself an assistant group supervisor and always a very important leader for the bargaining team, about the likely wage settlement and the proposed inequity, he confessed to being shocked

     With this very tentative understanding with the State, we scheduled a last night of bargaining in late fall, October I think, to close the deal. The MMA bargaining team knew what to expect as did the State team. However late that last night, midnight or after as I recall, I was summoned to talk privately again with the State Negotiator. With Gene Aune, MMA president at my side, she informed us that the State had rerun the numbers and that the costs of the settlement she had thought they could make with us were significantly over the parameters that had been set and the State could not go ahead with the deal. She mentioned that we were over the cost parameters by a couple of million dollars. Hearing this, I got a little agitated. The intensity in this conversation got high, very high I would say. Instead of doing what we had proposed, the State proposed that we just go with the standard settlement for all our supervisors. At the time, I was also getting some pressure from inside our bargaining team to forget the catch-up and just get everyone the same increase and get on with it. Certainly, everyone would have liked the standard settlement which was very good, but I believed that we had to solve the disparity problem in this first contract. If we did not, I feared we would not be able to do it later and that it creating a split within the membership and a wound that would never heal. Also, it just didn’t seem fair to not correct this problem. So, without going back to the team but with Gene Aune’s consent, I told the State with all the passion I could muster that we had to do the deal as MMA proposed, but I told her we were willing to adjust the timing of the increases to get the costs down to her parameters. But I emphasized that we would not adjust the amounts of the increases for non MNDOT supervisors. I asked her to rework the numbers by backing up the last increase slated for January 1, 1983 until the costs came into line. I was confident that with 2500 supervisors involved with this part of the settlement, the delay needed to bring costs into line would be tolerable. She said she would look at it. After some nerve wracking time, she returned and said they had refigured the settlement and were okay with a last revision in the date of the final wage increase. If you look at the first Contract’s wage article, you will see that the last increase of approximately 6.7% (and sometimes more), was to be given on February 9, 1983, and now you will know why.

     All that remained was to explain the Contract to the supervisors and to get their support for that first Contract and thus ratification. It was not an easy explanation because all the wage increases of the Contract could not be easily discerned from the wage article itself. The last very significant wage increase for non MNDOT supervisors could not really be found at all. But it was there in the wage schedules, particularly appendices N and Q, in the back of the Contract. Unless you knew exactly where and how to look for the increase, it was hard to understand the full scope of what was being given to the 2500 non MNDOT supervisors.

      I managed the metro ratification meetings while Gene Aune, the president, traveled to and conducted the outstate meetings. I will never forget one meeting in the Capital Complex, I can’t remember the building or the room, but I do remember looking out at some 300 supervisors anxiously waiting to hear the details. At the beginning of the meeting there seemed to be a lot of negative emotion with MNDOT supervisors wondering why they could did not get the overall percentage increase we advertised for the non MNDOT supervisors ( I explained that they had received that increase in 1979) and some non MNDOT supervisors unhappy that the MNDOT supervisors got 8% on July 1 whereas the rest had only received 5% on that date ( I explained that two months from the date of the meeting, by January 13th of 1982, they will have received and another 5.3%, totaling 10.3% whereas the MNDOT supervisors would only have received the first 7% at that point). Back and forth it went like a ping pong match. Some understood it immediately, some did not. Later when I got to know Gary Denault better, he was to become MMA executive director serving in that position for over 25 years, he said he understood right off what had happened and was amazed by the settlement. It took time with others but after what was an hour and a half or more, and with their questions answered, people seemed okay with the settlement. It was left to deal with a long line of non MNDOT supervisors after the meeting who wanted me to explain what it meant for them individually. This was my easiest task. I found out what class they were in and found their current step in the range, then showed them their wage that day and what it would be a year and a quarter later on February 13, 1983. In each case, I wrote it out on a piece of paper. After I showed them the before and after, typically they didn’t say much, just stared at the paper and then quietly wandered away. In almost all cases, they were getting more than a 30% increase in their wages over the length of the contract (at least 24% in general increases and 7% in steps), increases the likes of which they never come to close to seeing before. This first Contract would provide a tremendous foundation on which all future wages would build.

      So in the end, we did the make-up, with no break-up, and which allowed MMA to move on unified as a bargaining unit to try to do better yet in future contract negotiations.

Long live MMA.