Weather Forecast


'We want to work': State employees rally in opposition to possible shutdown

From left, Mary Martell, Kari Smith, Olivia Webb and her parents Derek and Kirstin Webb protest the possible state shutdown Wednesday afternoon along Paul Bunyan Dr. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Phone calls and letters were not getting the attention of local legislators, so the next step had to be made, said Rob Trepanier of Bemidji.

A "We want to work" rally was held from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday near Paul & Babe in Bemidji and involved a variety of people who oppose the possibility of state employees being laid off from work.

If a budget deal is not reached between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders by the end of today, a partial state government shutdown will begin Friday.

"We're being more visible and showing there are people in this community that it is going to be affecting," said Trepanier, rally coordinator and president of the local 761 chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. "I don't think people realize just how much it's really going to affect them until it occurs."

Roughly 40 people could be seen standing along Bemidji Avenue during the start of the rally. Many were wearing T-shirts and holding signs with the phrases "Tax the richest 2%" and "We want to work." Some rallygoers were handing out materials to parked cars or asking drivers to honk if they supported the signage.

Trepanier is employed at the Community Behavioral Health Hospitals in Bemidji, which operates under the Minnesota Department of Human Services. He admitted his own job would be safe if the government shutdown, but said he would still feel some impact from a shutdown.

"It's a key psychiatric facility, so we'd be likely be deemed as critical services, but our workforce would likely be reduced and we would not likely have the administration," Trepanier said.

Derek Webb, a math professor at Bemidji State University, attended the rally with his wife and two children. He said he was there because he did not want to see Minnesota state workers laid off.

"I think it's a very big issue people do not think of," Webb said. "I have friends who live in the state who, in about two weeks, will not be able to pay their mortgage. That's a real tragedy and it's completely unfair."

Also talking with people at the rally and near the Water Carnival entertainment venues was Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, who said he attended the rally to show support for "the working folks."

"It's important to me. This is all about jobs," he said. "We need to create jobs. Potentially shutting things down isn't going to do a doggone thing."

But not everyone present at the waterfront area was there for the rally. Food and game vendors and carnival ride workers were continuing to set up for the Bemidji Jaycees Water Carnival open today.

Mike Tammaro of Becida stood under his food tent Wednesday afternoon. On the counter in his booth was a jug of his wife's homemade barbecue sauce, which can be slathered over the Italian seasoned pulled pork Tammaro is selling.

Tammaro said he is not really worried about the potential government shutdown, despite the shouting he heard from people near his food tent.

"It ain't gonna be permanent anyway," he said. "I think it's more important we get our finances aligned and that we stop outspending our income. I'm sorry, I wish we had a lot less government."

Standing under a tent near Paul and Babe, Jens Werner and Oren Montgomery, both from Bemidji, were setting up their face-painting booth. They both said they were concerned about the potential government shutdown, but were too busy setting up their booth to say much.

Trepanier said he felt most people are scared and are still unsure of what could happen if the state goes into shutdown mode.

"This has never really occurred before at this level so people aren't really going to know the true impact until it occurs," he said.

After the meeting members of the local AFSCME union held an action planning to decide what steps would be taken next.