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Union: 'Everybody's concerned about their job'

Layoffs likely to reduce state services as work goes undone

By Joshua Lynsen

jlynsen@postbulletin.com

State employees are preparing for the worst as Minnesota starts to downsize its government work force.

Local leaders of the largest state employee union said Monday that workers are trying to maintain positive attitudes as they see their co-workers leave. But many are wondering whether their jobs will be next.

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"Everybody's concerned about their job," said Paul Bissen, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union official who represents southeastern Minnesota.

Nearly 900 state employees have been laid off this year. Another 300 are expected to lose their jobs by year's end. A state Senate survey showed 2,300 additional state workers could be out of work within the next two years.

Former union representative and local Department of Transportation engineering specialist Ken DeCramer said the widespread downsizing will fundamentally change how people view state jobs.

"It always used to be that a state job was a secure job," he said. "That's not the case any more."

DeCramer said some employees are choosing to leave state employment before they are laid off. He said some workers assume their low seniority already has marked them for termination, while others are taking early retirement options.

DeCramer said such departures -- coupled with a decision to let vacant positions go unfilled -- lessened the immediate blow. But he said planned budget cuts will be tougher to accommodate next year.

"We've already cut staff to the point where we all empty our own garbage cans," DeCramer said. "If we want our offices vacuumed, we do it on our time. …; The bathrooms are getting cleaned once, maybe twice a week in our building."

Linden Anderson, leader of the AFSCME union section representing Department of Natural Resources workers, said it soon will be down 10 of the 90 workers it had last year.

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Anderson said he's been disappointed to see that those who are losing their jobs "are the people who are doing the work." He said such layoffs make things more difficult for the workers who remain.

"The work didn't go away; it was just relocated," he said. "You can only be so efficient. Then you just run out of time."

Michael O'Dea, who helps coordinate AFSCME union representation of workers at Rochester Community and Technical College, said he shared those concerns.

Although no layoffs are currently planed among AFSCME workers there, O'Dea said he and others at the school are challenged to compensate while vacant positions go unfilled. He said if cuts are made, some work will go undone.

"It isn't a matter of doing more with less," he said.

"It's a matter of doing less with less."

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