Minnesota Gov. Al Quie settled a 22-day state employe strike Monday -- in part by offering the workers raises out of their own pockets.
The Republican governor said he had saved $7.2 million in payroll costs by not paying the striking workers, and also saved money by making the raises effective today instead of retroactively. This, he said, made it possible to meet the striker's demands within his budget.
Still, the strikers were ecstatic, hailing the agreement as an unprecedented victory -- "the finest agreement ever negotiated" by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes. For workers at the lower end of the scale, pay increases will range from 11 to 13 percent. For those in higher paid jobs, the increase will range from 9 to 11 percent, and in 1983 the 14,000 union members will get a cost-of-living adjustment.
Unlike President Reagan's confrontation with the air traffic controllers, Quie kept a low profile throughout the strike here, presumably being well aware that the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (as Minnesota Democrats are called) was ready to capitalize on the issue. Indeed, slogans like, "No Quie in '83" showed up on signs carried by pickets in front of the state capitol building. The current legislature is controlled by the Democratic Farmer Labor Party.
The Minnesota settlement, reached late Monday with the clerical and blue-collar members of Council 6 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes (AFSCME) may take up to four days to ratify. Meantime, union president Glen Littler of Virginia said the 21-member AFSCME executive board unanimously recommended acceptance. The settlement "was well worth our long struggle," he said.
Quie was conciliatory. He said the settlement "appears to be a good package for all concerned." He also thanked employes who stayed on the job and enabled the state "to provide services during the strike."
In his news conference today, Quie, a first-term governor seeking another four-year term in 1982, ducked a question on whether he favored changing the 1980 law that gave state employes the right to strike. He said he did not want to comment until bargaining with nine other employe unions covering about 30,000 employes was finished next fall.
Before the Minnesota law was changed last year, making the state one of the most liberal in its treatment of state employe unions, most state employes were prohibited from striking.
The strike also came after Quie saw his popularity plummet when he was forced earlier this year to ask a special session of the legislature for additional taxes to cover a $500,000 deficit, caused in part by his previous tax-cut program and in part by recession.
When asked today to assess the strike's political fallout, he said: "I didn't lose."
Although there were two small legal public employe strikes in 1979, this was the largest public employe strike yet in Minnesota.
But while services were curtailed throughout the state, notably at state hospitals, the only major facility actually shut down was the state zoo. That will reopen tomorrow.
Despite his low profile, a tactic which put other state officials in the limelight when they had to counter union charges in public, Quie did antagonize strikers on one occasion with a comment that, maybe after the strike was over, state officials might want to make a study to discover whether some positions could be eliminated for good from the state payroll.
He also raised the possibility --which would be unpopular -- that a special session of the legislature might be necessary if a strike settlement far exceeded his budget. This however, now seems unnecessary.