Unionized state employes in Minnesota went on strike this morning, vowing to "shut the state down." Many agencies were forced to restrict service, a state spokesman conceded.
But Commissioner of Administration James Hinikler -- who heads the emergency strike committee -- said that although there was a "slowdown," only the Minnesota Zoo was closed and that would only be for two days.
The American Federation of State, County and Muncipal Employes, however, disputed Hinikler's report that the government was coping "better than planned," and that state hospitals were meeting all usual patients' needs except for some "treatment" activities such as training for retarded persons.
A union spokesman contended that 12 major state hospitals, 16 Department of Transportation offices, all construction sites, some state parks were "virtually closed down." Teamsters union truck drivers were honoring the picket lines.
A spokesman for the governor said that 14,000 of the union's 15,000 members were on strike. The workers include clerks, blue-collar workers, janitors, groundskeepers, food service workers and technicians. Law enforcement personnel, prison guards, registered nurses and supervisors remained at their posts. They are forbidden to strike.
Bob Currie, union executive director, described the strikers as "the people who make government work."
Republican Gov. Al Quie called the state's final wage offer "fair and reasonable." He said he would not call out the National Guard, because this is a legal strike. The guard may be called out "only to protect life and property, neither of which were in danger today."
The strike comes as Quie, who is running for reelection next year, is trying to recover from one of Minnesota's worst budget crises. He staked his political life on cutting taxes and has seen his poll ratings skid as his administration ended the last biennium $152 million in debt. He had to go to the Democratic Farmer Labor Party-controlled legislature for a tax increase of more than $500 million to balance the current budget.
Employes represented by the union set the stage for the strike when they voted 8,204 to 2,457 last week to reject what state negotiatiors called the final contract offer.
This is the first major strike under 1980 legislation that made Minnesota's law the most liberal in the nation with regard to employe strikes. Four other states, Alaska, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Oregon, have comparable laws.
The issue is benefits and wages: the union contends that the state has offered an 8 percent increase which will be eroded by rising health insurance premiums. State negotiators contend that their package is a 9 percent boost and would cost the state an extra $85 million, which is all the state can afford. Union officals say that the state can find another $50 million by capping contingency funds.
"The money isn't there," the governor said during the interview this morning. Asked what would happen if the union prevailed, he said the alternatives would be either another special legislative session on taxes or laying people off.