From the Desk of the President (December, 2003)

Announcement

Eliot Seide, our new Council 14 Director, will be a guest speaker at our December 3rd General Assembly. He will answer any questions that you might have about Council 14's role.  We have also extended an invitation to Jeff Spartz from HCMC to speak about the future of the hospital but have not received a response as of the writing of this article.  Please plan to attend this meeting as we finish off an active year of unionism. 

As I write this article, many labor, religious, environmental and human rights activists are preparing to head to Miami for a rally against the Fair Trade Area of the Americas.  We have faced many losses of jobs in our communities over the past ten years due to NAFTA and are slated to lose many more based on the agreements that the trade ministers wish to put in place.  How many of us have dealt with friends, neighbors or clients who have lost a job that paid well to find that they cannot get a job to cover their living expenses?  They often end up taking a job that with a substantial loss in both pay and benefits, many times losing their pension as the factory or plant closed or the business filed for bankruptcy.   

If you listen to the news, you see stories of the number of personal bankruptcy claims climbing in direct proportion to the number of jobs leaving this country.  Last week, I watched a news segment about the number of jobs going to India and China.  A former ambassador to China stated that the workforce there is endless but, at some point, it would balance out and then the jobs in our country would see a swing back - like a pendulum.  When asked how many years that might take he did not have an answer.  My fear is that the answer is "Not in my lifetime".  All of this hit especially close to home as I visited with one of my cousins who has worked for a steel company for the past twenty years, dealing with various buyouts and job cuts but always able to maintain health insurance benefits and his pension due to a successor clause.  Now that may all disappear as his company faces further economic hardships.  There is talk of the company closing the mill here and relocating to another country.  There goes the pension, the job security, the years of company loyalty as he, his coworkers and their families become yet another statistic.  And, if you think that FTAA will only affect blue collar jobs, think again.  Under the proposed agreement, many of the services we provide as public employees will be on the block.  It will behoove each of us to read more about the FTAA and let our legislators know that this is not a good thing for our economy.  (See this website for more information - www.stopftaa.org/  

On another note, I went home last week for my aunt's funeral.  While there, I was talking to my cousin, Dorothy, who is an LPN at the hospital in Hastings.  She told me about receiving the newspaper and opening it to see a face that she had not seen in some time.  I couldn't figure out what she was referring to until she told me that the hospital staff are AFSCME members and the newspaper was the Public Employee.  She saw my picture in there and had shared that with me.  Then we got to talking to another cousin, Joann, who, along with her daughter, works for Yellow Medicine County Social Services and has a son who works for Wright County Social Services.  We had a long discussion about how our work is being affected by all the state and federal cuts.  More of our cousins pitched in with their take on the situation, voicing their concerns about the ability of workers to continue providing quality services with fewer workers to do the jobs and their fears that they, as taxpayers, would ultimately lose out as they would not receive the services they have become accustomed to.  This is a group of folks who grew up in rural Minnesota and have worked all of their adult lives - many of them having also worked while in high school and college - and have paid their taxes so they feel that they are entitled to express their frustrations with the way the economy is going, the way our taxes are being spent.  They want to know that Medicare and Social Security will be there when we retire.  They want to know that their taxes are being sent wisely to educate our children and grandchildren.  They want their parents to have quality medical care at the local hospital and that they will be able to afford the medicine.  The work ethic is not dead but the feeling is one of extreme disgust with the politicians and the games being played with our money.  Public employees are not viewed as being high paid slugs but as workers providing valued services.   

Last month, I wrote about the "folks on the 24th floor" being responsible for the budget woes we face by not passing the maximum levy limit.  Being a firm believer in  giving credit where credit is due, I should have noted that the vote on the levy motion was not unanimous and that three of our Commissioners, Mike Opat, Gail Dorfman and Peter McLaughlin, voted for the full levy limit which would have alleviated some of the hurt we are facing.  I apologize for this oversight in my article and thank them for their vote on this issue.  Please let them know that you appreciate their efforts. 

December will be a busy month for us as we prepare for the holidays and the changes brought by 2004.  Stay sane and stay safe. 

Jean