From the Desk of the President (1/2006) 


As promised, I have the names of the members of the Hennepin Action Team and the Strike Committee. The hours of time and effort that these folks put into planning the rallies with all the logistics of getting folks there, having speakers and signs, etc., bringing much welcomed food to the Table Teams which kept them going in the wee hours of the morning, gathering information for the Member Survival Guide and putting it in an easy to read format as well as distributing it to all of us, did not go unnoticed. So, please join me in giving a huge round of applause to our sisters and brothers who gave of themselves so that we all might enjoy success. Their flaming hearts gave warmth to all of us throughout the process. 

Hennepin Action Team –  Brenda Wood and Mary Dwyer, co-chairs, Andrea Lazo-Rice, Ann Baird, Beverly Benson, Chalmers Davis, Charlene Wright, F. John Halla, Joann Hanson-Sanford, Kela Williams, Kurt Podner, Lisa Kjellander, Michael Holley, Robin Martinson, Sue Carr, Vicki Nelson, Walter Hanson and Zanona Anderson. 

Strike Committee –  David Tremewan and John Korman, co-chairs, Brian Arneson, Bridget Hall, Charles Stech, Chela Guzman-Wiegert, Cate Wagner, Dawn Klingman, Gretchen Shanight, Jean Ayer, JoAnn Middaugh, Julie Peterson-Zinske, Kevin Ihrke, Kris Sprague, Laura Floistad, Laura Merkle, M. Susan Gilham, Nanette Morris, Noni Karkoska, Peggy Bennett, Roberta Wigfield, Steve Martinetti, Sue Wick, Susan Herlofsky, and Walter Hanson. 

Also, we owe thanks to Jill Kielblock, Council 5 staff, who assisted both groups in their work. Her advice was of great assistance as ideas were formed into plans and plans into action. As a Local, we give thanks for Lois McEwen, who with her usual get-it-done approach to things, was able to organize the collation, printing and mailing of the contract proposal to all of us before the Thanksgiving weekend so that we had it for our reading pleasure prior to the November 29, 2005 contract vote meeting.   

“Opportunity may be hard to recognize if you are only looking for a lucky break.” – Monta Crane 

The contract was accepted by our membership in the voting on November 29 and December 1, 2005. The Hennepin County Board approved the contract at the December 13, 2005 meeting. A number of AFSCME folks came for all or part of that meeting. Thank you to sisters Diane Bourgeois, Linda Flykt and Rhonda Washington from our Local who were present for the vote by the Commissioners.   

This brings me to the main topic of my article for this month. Commissioner Opat commended the Labor and Management Teams for having reached agreement for 2006 – 2007. He then noted that the Commissioners would keep their agreement to take have a 0% raise for 2006 which was what employees received in 2005. If he had stopped there, things would have been fine but then he went on to comment on several items with the contract.   

Mr. Opat expressed his disappointment that single coverage premium remained at $0.00. He stated that he felt that there should be some sort of premium for single coverage as it would be fair for everyone to pay something. This statement was made in spite of the fact that HealthPartners told us that they would raise the rates 7/10 of 1% for the premium we had already agreed to if the County imposed a premium for single coverage. The Employer and, with the trickle down theory, the residents of Hennepin County, would have incurred that increased cost because we had a negotiated premium for the 2006 and 2007 rates so I am not sure where the fairness would be realized. Commissioner Opat then stated that he felt that Labor needed to be open minded about leave time, that we should think outside the box and come into the 21st century as most businesses already have, and look at PTO (paid time off). He was concerned about our rejection of the plan presented in the past, as he felt that making PTO available would enable folks to have more leave time for their use. That plan, as presented, would have resulted in a loss of 2-3 days leave for the majority of our members so I am not sure what the attraction would have been to accept it.     

His final comment was regarding stability pay and his feeling that we should get rid of it. He stated that it isn’t tied to performance so there is no need for it. We do have many members who were not here when stability pay first came into being. For your edification, the reason we have it is because the Employer did not want to give a large raise to us during a contract negotiation years back. Instead, they came up with the recognition for years of service by introducing the stability pay for folks with at least 5 years of service at that time. Because our rate of pay was so low, we agreed to it as every penny helped then, just like now. Over the years, this issue has come up in negotiations with the Employer proposing to do away with it, and the Union proposing any number of plans to add the pay to our base salary. That would give us true value, as it would be increased by subsequent raises over the years as well as raising our income for our retirement high five. And, yes, there is a performance standard attached to stability pay. It is called an annual review. If we don’t meet the standards for the review, we could lose our job and would not reach the 5-year mark to even begin receiving stability pay. Every year thereafter, we must continue to meet the review standards which are based on our job performance. We are here to serve the residents of Hennepin County and we provide that service with the highest standards of performance.     

Commissioner Opat, if you are truly serious about joining the 21st century, I challenge you to put your words into action and do something that would have real meaning to all Hennepin County employees. I challenge you to join with AFSCME Council 5 and sponsor a resolution for the Hennepin County Board to endorse HR 676, the single-payer universal health care plan introduced by Representative John Conyers from Michigan. For years we have lamented on the spiraling cost of health insurance and premiums, gnashing our teeth and looking for quick fixes. The latest offering has been that people should look at how they spend their health dollars to keep costs down. All of that is just moaning about the symptoms – premium cost, co-pays, etc. - of this illness and it is time to quit that ineffective behavior. We have an opportunity to actually do something positive to address the illness itself – the health insurance industry. Can we count on you to join us in the 21st century and look way outside the box for solutions to this problem that affects all of us? I look forward to your response. 

Last, but certainly not least, January is traditionally the time that many of us look at getting papers together in preparation for our annual tax return headaches. Please remember to check “yes” on the box for State General Campaign Fund on your state tax return. Doing so provides money for candidates who might not otherwise be able to finance a campaign. A good number of candidates endorsed by AFSCME have used this source of funding to help them out, some of them members of our sister Locals, so it does behoove us to ensure that the funds will be there for future candidates. Also, in that same vein, our Treasurer Patrick Regan will be sending out the W-2’s for all members who had lost time and officer/steward stipends for 2005. You might want to make sure that he has your current address on record if you have moved any time since your last lost time submission. 

Over the past few months, you have received a series of e-mails with updates on negotiations, dental enrollment, and other information germane to our work lives. I hope that you have found that a useful tool for keeping current on the news. I know that it has been a relatively speedy method of getting important information out to you in a timely fashion. The feedback that we have received so far has been favorable for continuing this effort. I hope that we have not missed anyone. If you have not received the e-mails, please let me know so that we can update our e-list for future e-mails.   

Happy New Year, Jean