From the Desk of the President (7/2006)

Fail to plan and you can plan to fail.

It is time for us to join together in finding solutions to the problems facing us. The Human Services and Public Health Department Executive Committee met with the County Board on June 15th to give them an overview of the impact the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) will have on Targeted Case Management (TCM) revenues. (You can find the PowerPoint slides and presentation summary on the County's intranet at http://iwww1/hsd/org/federalimpact/countyboardbriefing.htm if you have not already seen them). The picture is not pretty and will get even less pretty unless we a way is found to restore those cuts. Since the State Legislature failed to do anything to help restore the cuts, it is now up to the individual County Boards across Minnesota to take action. To that end, AFSCME Council 5 has committed resources by assigning John Thorson to work with us on addressing this problem. The first step in this process will be brainstorming at the Council 5 Social Service Committee meeting on June 20th with members from the various counties in the Council. Our 2nd step will be John attending the June 21st Local 34 Executive Board meeting to discuss the results of the Social Service Committee meeting and talk about things we, as Local 34 can do to address this issue. This is going to take the time and efforts of our members across the Local and will include asking each of us, as our teachers used to say, put on our thinking caps. We will need to review the potential for the County's 2007 levy limits and find a fair amount to request that will allow us to keep our work in-house as well as restore the budget cuts. It will not be easy and, with all of the political campaigns going on this year, cut into our already small reserve of free time. Important dates to keep in mind for this process are Tuesday, August 29th, when the County Board sets the maximum property tax levy increase for 2007 and Tuesday, December 5th, when the County Board votes to set the levy. The Board can, at that meeting, vote to set it a lesser amount that what was proposed at the August 29th meeting so it is extremely important that we are prepared to voice our concerns. We were successful in our campaign for a better contract last year because members from across our local became involved in the process. You saw what your resolve could do to affect a decent contract. We can be successful again in this campaign for a reasonable levy and the restoration of the budget cuts.

We have received the official Call to the Minnesota State AFL-CIO convention, which will be held at the Crown Plaza Riverfront Hotel (previously known as the Radisson-Kellogg) in St Paul, Minnesota, from August 7- 9, 2006. Our local is entitled to 7 delegates. Wes Volkenant, our 1st Vice President for 2006, will be an automatic delegate (as the President will be attending the AFSCME International Convention during the same time), so we will have an election at the July 5th GA to vote for the balance of 6 delegates and 7 alternates. If you are interested in putting your name forward for that election and cannot attend the GA, please send me an e-mail expressing your interest, by no later than 12:00 noon on July 5th. The local will cover registration costs, lost time and per diem of $35.00 for the three days, as well as mileage to and from the convention for our 7 delegates.

One of the items in our contract that we have not discussed until now is the ability for our Local to discuss developing a post-employment health care savings plan. Each local can devise the terms and conditions of a plan, based on what that local feels would best suit the needs of its members. The plan would be administered by the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), based on the authority granted in 2001 Minn. Stat. 352.98 (2001 Supp.). The savings account would be tax-free - both going in and coming out - for the employee and his/her spouse's (or eligible dependent) health care expenses. The one caveat is that the entire membership would be subject to the terms and conditions developed as the criteria for the plan but the local's conditions could be changed if the membership decided that they want to tweak it and votes to do so. Possible sources of funding could be severance pay, designated percentage of pay or an annual lump sum contribution, and it can be split based on years of service, so that the funding is incrementally increased or decreased. Robert Fahnhorst from MSRS gave an overview of the plan at our Labor/Management Health Care Committee meeting on June 12th. He is willing to come to our Local GA or other meeting to give a presentation on the possibilities and answer questions. This is something that we might want to discuss at a future GA as another tool in our box for our retirement years.

Also, as we really begin to swing into the process of elections for this fall and working on political campaigns, please think about signing a PEOPLE check-off card to help AFSCME provide resources to support it's endorsed candidates. We have the ability to elect folks at both the state and federal level who make the laws that govern the work that we do as well as commissioners who decide how our county dollars are budgeted. Diane Bourgeois, our PEOPLE Chair, is ready, willing and able to meet with you to discuss the goals of PEOPLE as well as the benefits of getting involved in this process. I strongly encourage you to talk to her and to the candidates running for seats in your area to see what you can do to better our working lives.

Happy Independence Day! Jean