From the Desk of the President (April, 2007)
Day on the Hill was a great success: I served on the Council 5 committee along with members of both Councils 5 and 65, as well as staff from the AFSCME Area Office to plan the program and events for the day. It was gratifying to see so many Local 34 members, as well as other Hennepin County Locals' members, in attendance. Our very own Brother Cliff Robinson did us proud when he spoke at the rally about privatization and the adverse effects it has on the quality of services we provide to the residents of the state. His remarks made it very clear that regardless of where one works, public services are best done by public employees. We know the work and we do it better than well.
HF 1023 Child Support safety net to address the cuts in Child Support funding due to Deficit Reduction Act. The House Committee will hear testimony on this bill the last week of March. I have been asked by AFSCME to testify and plan to do so. If there is one thing that I do know, it is child support! As a corollary to that, Barry Bloomgren from the Child Support Division, sent an e-mail with information about pending bills at the federal level. H.R. 1386, sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott from Washington with Rep. Keith Ellison as one of 10 cosponsors, has been referred to the Ways and Means Committee. S. 803, sponsored by Sen. John D. Rockefeller from West Virginia with Sen. Norm Coleman as one of four co-sponsors, has been referred to the Finance Committee. Both bills do address our primary concerns regarding the use of federal incentives to leverage additional federal revenue for our operating expenses. Please contact both Rep. Ellison and Sen. Coleman to express your thanks for their support of the bills they have cosponsored. If you have a story - work related or personal - to share with them on how child support services has impacted you, your family, coworkers, neighbors, friends, etc., I strongly encourage you to do so.
Justice for Walker Workers: The workers of Walker Methodist Health Center are asking for our help in getting signatures for a petition in support of their efforts to have their union, AFSCME, recognized by their Employer and to negotiate in good faith. If you would like a sign for your lawn, please let Jeff Fowler, 651 -287-0581, of the Council 5 Organizing Department know, and he will get one out to you. I also have the petition as a Word document which I can forward to you from my home computer to your home e-mail address. Please let me know and I can get sent to you.
Council 5 Convention… no, it is not too early to think about it. I have been appointed to the Convention Committee so if you have any ideas on what you would like to see for workshops topics, please let me know as soon as possible. It will be held in Duluth September 27 - 29, 2007.
Local 3558, 138 workers strong at the Human Development Center in Northeast Minnesota, was able to successfully negotiate a contract so they were not in need of strike funds. They express their sincere thanks for all the words of support during their contract negotiations process.
Doyle Juenke, Mary Kay Popko, Matt Nelson and I attended the Labor Management Health Care Committee meeting held March 15th. David Lawless from the Office of Budget and Finance gave a brief overview on the status of the existing early (pre-age 65) retiree health coverage continuation policy for the County. The County is facing an increasing liability for the retiree health promises made to us when we were hired. The County revised that policy for non-organized employees hired on or after January 1, 2007, so it is no longer a benefit available to them. Since a large number of us are baby boomers and will be retiring within the next five to ten years, this liability could grow if we choose to leave before the Medicare eligible age of 65, as that promise was to cover the premium cost for single coverage health insurance. Much of what the County is currently basing their figures on is predicated on folks leaving between ages 55 - 65. I suspect that many of us who would be eligible to take early retirement for full PERA benefits will not be able to afford doing so based on the cost of living and other expenses so I am not convinced by the assertions that this liability is going to be as large as indicated. We spent the second part of the meeting was spent educating ourselves on Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) compared to a plan such as our existing HealthPartners Distinctions plan. Information was presented on what other public employers are offering their employees and how an HRA plan, alongside a deductible plan and a plan such as we currently have could possibly provide us with choices on coverage levels and out-of-pocket costs. Peter Benner, our AFSCME Council 5 health care consultant, attended this meeting. We will look to him for his expertise in what look s good and what does not. We have two more meetings scheduled for ongoing education on the health insurance issue.
I hope that you will be able to join us at the April 4th General Assembly where we will continue to discuss Local 34 issues and wishes for the upcoming contract proposal. We had a very fruitful discussion as part of the March 14th GA and look forward to fleshing out the items already identified as well as review other items brought to the meeting. Every officer and steward of the local has a copy of the existing contract which you can review A copy should also be posted on the union bulletin board in your work area. It can also be found on our local's website, www.afscmelocal34.org, or on the Labor Relations website at http://hennote1/intranet/publications/laborcontracts.nsf. If you are interested in serving on the Master Negotiations Team - the body which crafts the union's proposal to present to the Employer - please let me know, so that I can add your name to the list of appointments. We will have a series of meetings in April and May to work on that proposal.
On behalf of the Local, I'm extending thanks, gratitude and well wishes to Susie Olson, retiring from AFSCME Minnesota after many years of service to union members throughout the State.