From the Desk of the President (4/2004)

Announcements: Please join me in extending congratulations to Will DeKrey, son of our very own Catherine DeKrey. He is one of 10 national  winners of this year's AFSCME Family Scholarships. Sister DeKrey admits that she is bursting with pride on Will's accomplishment. He plans to attend Dartmouth next fall.  Way to go, Will!!

The Executive Board passed a motion at the March 17th meeting to contribute $5000.00 to the Amalgamated Transit Union strike fund. It will helps our sisters and brothers of ATU 1005 as they face Governor Pawlenty and Peter Bell in their attempts to take away their health insurance benefits. Mr. Bell  made the comment that those workers have something that the rest of us do not have and they shouldn't have it any longer. I say that every man, woman and child in this country should be so lucky as to have had someone in the past to be intelligent enough to understand that giving up wages for health insurance benefits then, would be a major boon to them now. I would like to see that the strike is over by the time you read this. If not, please get out there and support them in their fight to retain those benefits. And then, let all of us look forward to our own negotiations next year and think about how to achieve better benefits. It is an ongoing battle but it can be won - by all us!

John Bowman has announced that he is retiring from the County and will resign his position with the Union effective March 31, 2004.  Brother Bowman has served our members faithfully and we all wish him well as he embarks on his journey as a "retiree". Thank you for a job well done.  John is our current Delta Dental Trustee and serves on the Council 14 Dental Trust Board. If you are interested in serving in that position, please contact me by no later than noon, Wednesday, April 7th, as I will appoint his replacement at the meeting.

Our new officers will take their oath of office at the May 5th General Assembly. The Executive passed a motion to make that meeting a festive occasion by changing the format of the meeting. We will conduct abbreviated business with the majority of our  time spent on getting to know each other and members having an opportunity to ask questions of the officers. Food and beverages will be provided. If possible, the meeting will be held in the 2nd floor lunchroom in HSB. Please watch your bulletin board and/or desk for a flyer with more complete information prior to the May GA.

Delegates for the June 21 - 25, 2004 AFSCME International  Convention will be elected at the May GA.  We have not received our official "Call" yet so do not have the number of delegates yet. We are required to give at least 15-day notice of the election of delegates so need to put that notice in this newsletter to meet that requirement. If you are interested in putting your name forward for the election at the May 5th GA and cannot attend that meeting, please contact me by noon of that day.

President's Column: Where to start this month? So much is happening - politically, socially, and on the job - that it is hard to find a starting point. Politically we see news of various proposed legislation that could have severe impacts on our ability to do our jobs. I hope that you are all paying close attention to anything to with CAFTA, GATS and FTAA (see Wes's summary in his convention report). The possibility of our work being sold to lowest bidder leaves me with grave concerns - not just for me but for the clients I serve.  Privatization is a one way ticket to sub-standard services for the public and we all lose. Not only does the money leave in the form of income taxes but it also leaves the community when workers have no jobs and have no purchasing power which means that there is less money for services and infrastructure and so forth and so on - just bad news all around. Socially, I see more homeless folks on the streets, more neighbors using services, fewer people in the stores when I am out shopping. On a positive note, I do hear many more folks actually talking about real (to me) issues instead of the lack of a message in a silly movie (gee, sometimes we just want to laugh!). I hear folks talking about how they can't get the speedy responses they have been used to when dealing with the Service Centers or their parent's worker or how upset they are that the libraries are closed. 

Maybe many of them are beginning to understand that we public employees have not been doing the "sky is falling" routine, that we were serious about the outcomes of current administration's intent to do away with our quality of life by cutting the budget.

Local 34 is beginning a new journey. We, and by that I mean all of us, will be working with the other Hennepin County AFSCME Locals to "Build for a Better Contract". The first step on this journey happened last month at a meeting of the nine Local Presidents and our Business Agents; Eliot Seide, our Council 14 Executive Director, and John Thorson, our Council 14 political guru. We discussed the need to approach contract negotiations differently from our past practice with the agreement that we need to start now - not next year - to build our members who are the muscle of everything we do as a union. In order to get to where we need to be, we need to find out where we are, who we are,  what we are willing to do to attain our goals and get cracking. With that in mind, our E-Board passed a motion at the March 17th meeting for our E-Board and stewards to join the E-Boards and stewards of the other Locals for a facilitated strategy meeting. It is scheduled for April 19th.  After that meeting, we will be coming back to the workplace to find leaders at the various worksites willing to serve as point persons for union activities - getting flyers out, letting coworkers know about rallies, the need for folks to work on campaigns. There will then be another meeting with those leaders, officers and stewards to learn how we can accomplish the tasks ahead of us as we work towards the goal of a successful contract. We will work on getting labor-friendly candidates elected to office. We will look at what strategies have worked with other unions. It is going to be a busy time and it is going to be a fun time. When we work together, we grow stronger and we build power and then we build a good contract. You will hear more about this as we move further along in the process but feel free to contact me with your questions. And, if you think that this is something that you are interested in doing, give me a call or track me down. This is going to be the opportunity of a lifetime for positive change!

Speaking of change, we had our bimonthly meeting with County Administrator, Sandy Vargas, on March 18th.  I was heartened when she broached the subject of the format of our meetings and how what we have been doing has not been an efficient use of our time. Ms. Vargas suggested that we could do better and I whole-heartedly agree with her. We have agreed to be more pro-active in our approach and set our agenda in advance of the meetings so that we all have ample opportunity to get the information needed to adequately address the issues and, hopefully, allow us to resolve them at the meeting.

At our last bimonthly Presidents meeting with Bill Peters, Director of Labor Relations, we agreed to ask Al Olson from the Bureau of Mediation Services to facilitate our Meet & Confer sessions as we discuss what we mean by dignity and respect and how we think we can address our concerns. Our group will be  comprised of Bill Peters and his Management folks, the nine AFSCME Presidents, our Business Agents, and another member from each of our locals. Our first meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 21st. We will have a series of meetings over the coming months so look for updates in future editions of the newsletter. Please send me your concerns, your stories, your thoughts and ideas about dignity and respect and what you would like to see come out of this process. It will help us tremendously.

Well, I think that is enough for now. We have our work cut out for us. We
are going to have so much fun!!