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State employees return to work

About 9,000 workers back on the job Monday

By Patrick Condon

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- About 9,000 state workers returned to their jobs Monday morning after a vacation they didn't ask for -- and, in many cases, won't get paid for.

"It feels good to be going back," said Stacey Burns, a librarian at the Department of Health. "It was a stressful week."

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The furloughed state workers were the most high-profile victims of the state's first-ever government shutdown caused by a budget impasse. The partial shutdown shuttered some agencies and services for more than a week.

It came to an end early Saturday, when Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders agreed on a two-year budget and approved a "lights on" bill that re-opened state government through midnight Thursday, giving the leaders time to finalize the deal.

Lawmakers were putting the finishing touches Monday on bills dealing with health spending and taxes. Negotiators wrapped up an education bill on Sunday. All are scheduled to be put to votes by the full Legislature on Wednesday.

Employees returning to work Monday morning at the Department of Health's headquarters near the University of Minnesota campus said they didn't like being caught in the middle of the political dispute at the Capitol.

"It's just a little annoying that we had to suffer the consequences of the Legislature being unable to do its job," said Sally Sabathier, who works in the asthma unit.

Sabathier said she found it ironic that one aspect of the final budget deal is a performance pay package for teachers.

"I'd like to see performance pay for legislators," Sabathier said. "I'd like to see how that would work out."

The furloughed workers have the option of covering lost pay by cashing in vacation time. Some, however, didn't have enough vacation time to cover all of the six days they were furloughed, while others said they'd probably take a few days unpaid in order to save vacation time for later this year.

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"I don't want my vacation ruined over this," said Dianna Roerig, who is planning an August trip to Wisconsin Dells to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary.

The union that represents many of the furloughed workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, said that by last Friday, 1,650 workers had exhausted their vacation time.

Union officials said they'd seek the restoration of the lost pay and vacation time when they sit down with state negotiators, possibly later this week, to work on new state employee contracts. The negotiations had been previously scheduled and had to be delayed because of the shutdown.

"We expect that our folks will be made whole," said Jennifer Lovaasen, an AFSCME spokeswoman.

Cal Ludeman, the state's commissioner of employee relations, said he was ready to take up the issue in negotiations but didn't expect full restoration.

"I don't think anything is a slam dunk," he said. "You have to remember that we didn't violate any terms of any contract."

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