First day back to work at MnDOT

After 20 days of the Minnesota government shutdown, I was contacted by my supervisor yesterday afternoon (July 20) to go back to work today.

The shutdown was over. The waiting was over. The anxiety was over. So was my homecation. I was happy to go back to work today. I got up early and left for work a few minutes early.

At the entrance of the Transportation building, I was, like every other employee walking in, warmly greeted by our MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel and his management team with a cheerful “Welcome back!” and a handshake or a hug. They had been waiting at different entrances shortly before 7 am when employees started to come in.

Coffee and donuts were available which added some bitter-sweet touch to the event.

Reporters from media were on site to report the event and interview people. Check out this MinnPost article MnDOT workers get a warm ‘Welcome back!’

Our office managers also handed out a hand written note from Commissioner Sorel to every employee. In the note, Sorel extended a personal welcome back and thank-you. He ended the note with “We are MnDOT!!” – a slogan and an initiative his management team created in the last couple of years.

“We are MnDOT”expresses the pride of being a MnDOT employee. “We are MnDOT” videos share stories about who we are, what we do, and what makes MnDOT great.

Later in the morning we had an office meeting to go through the checklist that the management team had worked on in the last couple of days to help employees ease back to work. Our office managers also expressed their personal welcome back and thank you.

Around 8 am, Governor Dayton stopped by at the Transportation Building to greet returning employees. At noon, he sent a thank-you note via email to all state employees.

In the afternoon at 2 pm, Commissioner Sorel and Deputy Commissioner Bernie Arseneau conducted a web cast for all employees. The web cast started with a “We are MnDOT” video. Then both leaders again welcomed everyone back to work. They shared what happened during the shutdown, talked about return to work checklists and resources, and how to resume business.

It sure felt good to be welcomed back at work and to be valued.

Thanks to Commissioner Sorel and his management team, I feel proud to be working for MnDOT and being a part of “We are MnDOT.”

Shutdown frustration

The Minnesota state government shutdown is ending its second week tomorrow with no resolution in sight. It’s getting increasingly frustrating for everyone effected, especially the state employees. We didn’t expect the shutdown would last longer than two weeks. I started worrying about the financial consequences of the layoff. In the next few months I need to pay back money borrowed from a relative to buy the current house 10 years ago because she is in the process of buying a house herself. My van is over 10 years old. I just spent $300 for repairlast week and I need to save morefor a replacement in the next year or so. I have a coworker whose spouse also works for the state. Now they are both laid off. They are worried about mortgage, child support, etc. I even worry about the plants I left in the office. They will surely die if not watered after two weeks. I had them for years. They are part of my life. I don’t want to lose them. Adding to the frustration is the process of applying for the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance. The UI website is not a user friendly site, to say the least. Everyone of my coworkers reported problems and expressed frustration with the application process. We are information professionals and we used to help people find information. Now we need help to complete our UI application. I started my online application in June before I left for a trip, to get a head start. I even talked to a UI representative and was ok’ed to do so. Last week I was told that it was wrong and I had to changeit. But I couldn’tmake the simple change myself, they had to do it for me. A coworker checked a wrong box in his application, he couldn’t go back to uncheck it. The UI staff had to deletehis account and start fresh for him. This morning I logged in to my accountto request benefit payment. I had trouble completing it. I couldn’t even find my employer -State of Minnesotaon the employer list. When I called the UI for help, I got hung up 5 times with the message: “You needa touch tone phone to use the system” even though I do have a touch tone phone and I just used it last week to call.Finally I tried my cell phone andI got talk to a live person after two attempts. Since I applied for UI in June, I got close to 10noticesfrom the UI. I was told that they were system generated and I should just ignore and discard most of them. This was just a small example of the waste and the loss of resources as the result of the government shutdown. Think about the local restaurantsand other type of small businesses in St Paul or other locations that lost a lot of customers who are state employees. I read the other day in the paper that the Farmer’s Market in downtown St. Paul lost a great deal of business due to the shutdown. Think about the contractors and vendors who depend on state businesses. In this shutdown game, everyone loses and no one wins. Our elected officials need to work together, stop being childish and silly, give up some of their own agendas in order to reach the compromise and gain the result forthe common good. The news about our government shutdown was reported in the local newspaper in my hometown in China. A few days ago when I called and talked with my brother, he laughed with unbelief about what’s happening here in the US. He couldn’t imagine that any government in China would shut down like this.

Closed during shutdown

There are 15 days left to a possible state government shutdown in Minnesota.

Today Gov. Mark Dayton filed a petition in Ramsey County court with his recommendation of what to keep open and what to close if state government shuts down on July 1.

Gov. Dayton suggested that 13,250 people, about one third of state employees, remain on the job in a government shutdown to provide critical services, such as police and prison guards, disaster and public health response, medical assistance and tax collection.

The petition recommends that 29 state agencies retain minimal staffing while 46 close entirely. Agencies that would keep the most workers in a shutdown are Human Services, Corrections, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs.

As for the Department of Transportation where I work, only 217 workers out of more than 5000 employees will keep their jobs, according to the recommendation. They work in areas of emergency highway repair, aeronautic navigation, emergency communication networks, and truck permitting.

The other services performed by over 4000 employees are deemed non critical.

When you travel on Minnesota highways during the shutdown, be prepared that the rest areas on highways will be closed. Remember to bring your own device or find a restaurant to do your business when nature calls.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Highway construction projects will be put on hold.

Sorry for the inconvenience. 

Let’s hope that no tragedies, big or small, will happen during the shutdown.

Sorry we are closed for business.

Hopefully our governor and the Republican legislative leaders have  worked out a budget deal by June 30 to prevent any inconvenience, tragedies and hardships from happening to anyone.

For more info on what Gov. Dayton wants to keep open and close in a shutdown, visit this post by Don Davis.