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MINNESOTA SHUTDOWN: 'We want to work for Minnesota'

Workers and family members affected by the Minnesota state shut down hold a rally in Crookston, Minn. on July 7, 2011. (CHRISTIAN RANDOLPH/Grand Forks Herald)

CROOKSTON - Robert Goosen said he's been in this situation before.

"I guess I'm kind of used to getting laid off," he said. He chuckled as he recounted his 17 years as a construction worker, often getting let go during the winter.

This time is different. Goosen, 47, is now a heavy equipment mechanic for the Minnesota Department of Transportation and has been without work for seven days, since the Minnesota government shut down.

He joined a group of about 20 other public employees Thursday at noon outside of the DOT building here, as they rallied in support of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Higher taxes for those with more money is what they wanted; that, and to go back to work.

"Everybody pays the same at the grocery store," Goosen said. "Why should taxes be any different?"

Officials from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) council in Minnesota, those representing DOT union workers here, organized the event. Most of the protesters were DOT workers.

Protestors stood on the street corner with signs that read "We want to work for Minnesota." More than a few truck drivers honked their horns as they passed by the event.

"We want public workers back to work, and there's no reason that can't happen," said AFSCME Field Representative Ken Loeffler-Kemp.

The main point of the rally, he said, was to bring public workers to the attention of representatives. Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, was on hand. Union leaders said she was invited to talk to the workers who are out of a job during the shutdown.

"I would like them all back to work, too," Kiel said. "We need to keep people working. And that's really important to their livelihood, our community's livelihood and the state's."

Some protesting the government shutdown were passing out fliers, accusing Kiel of not doing her job, blaming her and other Republicans for insisting on a budget that "hurts middle-class families."

Kiel said she came to the event to meet public workers and discuss with them their concerns.

A "lights-on" bill, she said, would have let public workers continue to work as the budget problems were solved, but said Gov. Dayton wanted to handle the entire budget at once and not extend the process using such a bill.

"Lights-on bill means that we would keep people working," Kiel said. "It extends the budget so that we can pay all of our bills as we're still working out the budget."

Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, was also at the protest. He said a lights-on bill would only extend the problem instead of solving it.

"If you do the lights-on, it's just a more painful extension of this whole process," he said. "It needs to come to a conclusion. There was a deadline. That deadline is past."

For Goosen, though, the stability of his regular job is what he's searching for. The unemployment checks, he said, don't quite keep up with the bills.

"We'll see how long it lasts," he said. "The longer it lasts, the longer it's gonna hurt."

Reach Burgess at (701) 780-1269 or send email to