Lawsuit Claims MMB Commissioner’s Rogue Pay Increase for State Union Violates Law

Even as many Minnesotans struggle to pay their bills in the Covid era, thousands of state workers continue to benefit from a disputed pay raise awarded in the midst of the pandemic. But the government union employees’ 2.5 percent pay increase was never ratified by both houses of the Minnesota Legislature as required by law.

As a result, the payments could be blocked and the collective bargaining agreement resubmitted to the legislature for reconsideration in the 2021 session, depending on the outcome of a court case filed by two state lawmakers represented by the Upper Midwest Law Center.

The legal complaint by Senator Mark Koran, R-North Branch  and Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, maintains the pay increase blatantly violates state law and is being illegally distributed by Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter.

“Minnesota’s statutes are clear on this issue: if a majority in both houses of the Legislature do not approve state employee union bargaining agreements, they may not be implemented,” Koran and O’Neill said in a joint statement. “That didn’t happen with these agreements, and the Commissioner chose to implement them anyway. Our state government depends on the executive branch obeying the laws instead of ignoring them and ruling by decree. This lawsuit seeks to uphold the rule of law in Minnesota.”

While the DFL-led Minnesota House of Representatives approved the government union agreement last legislative session, the GOP-led Minnesota Senate voted to implement the agreement in July 2021. The Star Tribune summary of the case included this rejoinder from the state agency.

In response, and after a legal review, Minnesota Management and Budget concluded that while state law requires lawmakers to approve state worker contracts, the Legislature cannot “unilaterally modify the agreements or plans.”

But the plaintiffs have asked the court to order MMB to stop making further payments in order for the process to follow state law. Furthermore, they contend MMB’s action constitutes a pattern on the part of the Walz administration.

“The executive branch of our state has demonstrated nothing but contempt for the rule of law in 2020, whether it’s Governor Walz selectively shutting down business, or the Commissioner of MMB throwing caution to the wind and illegally giving pay raises to state employees regardless of contrary law,” stated Howard Root, Chair of the Upper Midwest Law Center. “Minnesota cannot afford pay raises to state employees when its private sector businesses and their employees are suffering because of the Walz Administration’s shutdowns. This kind of disregard for the law must end.”