ST. PAUL, Minn. — Leaders from the two largest state employees unions agreed Sunday to accept contract deals reached with the state, ending a two-week walkout by 28,000 government workers.
Nearly half the state's employees were idled by the strike, the largest by state workers in Minnesota's history. The unions represent workers ranging from tax collectors to parole officers to zoo staff.
The unions, which represent more than half of the state government's work force, went on strike Oct. 1. They were expected to return to their jobs this week.
The executive directors of both unions said they would recommend ratification when the rank-and-file vote on the contracts, which probably wouldn't happen for several weeks.
"There's a lot of hard feelings," said Lisa Maidl, a revenue collector in Ely, in northeastern Minnesota. "I'm just going to go in, sit at my desk and hopefully avoid some of those people for a while."
The contract deals, reached just after 2 a.m., would give the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3.5% wage increases for each of the next two years, said Don Dinndorf, spokesman for the union's Council 6.
"I consider this a win, a clear win, for our members," said Peter Benner, the union's executive director.
Workers belonging to the Minnesota Assn. of Professional Employees would receive 3% pay hikes for each of the two years.
"This is the offer that should have been the floor offer in July," said Deb Schadegg, MAPE president.
Both unions would see "significant improvements" in the health care package over what the state had offered before the strike, Dinndorf said.
State negotiators also sounded positive.
"All sides ought to be very pleased at how they came through this," said Julien Carter, Minnesota's employee relations commissioner.
Talks broke off shortly before the strike began. The state and the unions resumed negotiations on Thursday after being called back to the bargaining table by a state mediator.
The final state offers before the strike included back-to-back 3% raises for all AFSCME employees for two years and a one-time 4% across-the-board raise for MAPE's members.
AFSCME had asked the state for a 5% across-the-board raise each of the next two years. For MAPE, the union sought 4.5% raises annually.
Before the contract, AFSCME members, among them highway maintenance workers, janitors, food service workers and corrections guards, earned an average of $30,000 a year. MAPE's forensic scientists, food inspectors, computer professionals and other members earned an average of $49,000 a year.
Carter didn't rule out layoffs as a way to pay for the contracts, but said he would leave it to state agencies to determine how to trim money from their budgets.
"We certainly would hope that's not likely," Dinndorf said of possible layoffs.
The unions had contended all along that the state had more money available than it had offered to the unions.
Workers went on strike three weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the timing has been a public-relations challenge for union members.
Managers pulled double-duty and as many as 1,000 members of the Minnesota National Guard helped out in nursing homes, veterans homes, security hospitals and treatment centers.
Services were disrupted in some state agencies, but no major problems were reported.
Poll results released Friday found that more than half of respondents felt it "wrong for state employees to be on strike now." The Star Tribune newspaper poll also found people more sympathetic to the administration's position than to the unions'.
Minnesota's last state workers strike, in 1981, involved 14,000 employees and lasted 22 days.