From the Desk of the President (6/2006)

We have received the convention call for the AFSCME International Convention to be held in Chicago the week of August 7 - 11, 2006.  Local 34 is allotted six delegates.  A motion was passed at the 5/16/06 E-Board to send our delegation to the convention with the election to take place at the June 7, 2006 GA.  This is going to be an extremely important convention for us as we will review and vote on resolutions which will determine the direction we head over the next few years.  Those of us who attended the 36th International Convention in Los Angeles will recall voting on a resolution to establish what has been titled the 21st Century Committee.  The charge of this committee was to ... examine every aspect of its International Constitution, as well as review all committees called for under the Constitution to best focus their purpose and activities; analyze the dues structure; evaluate programs, priorities, representational structure, and methods of operation; all for the purpose of recommending changes to make the union more effective, stronger, and to ensure that AFSCME is on the offensive and serves as the leader of the labor movement."  Committee members include the International Vice Presidents - see the afscme.org web site for a complete list.  Along with a number of union members from around the country, they have met over the past two years, meeting the charge of that resolution and completing a report which will be presented at this year's convention.  They will also have a good number of resolutions to address their recommended changes for our union, based on the work of the Committee. 

Local 34 has actually implemented some of the changes that will be suggested as a best practice and recommended policy by the Committee.  One of those is the dues structure which we just changed effective this year.  We went from a 5-tier structure to a straight progressive structure of 1% of monthly gross income.  The Committee is going to recommend that, by the year 2009, all locals throughout the International implement some version of a progressive dues structure such as ours.  The thinking behind this is that it is one of the most equitable methods of handling dues.    

Another recommendation will be to raise the minimum dues rate by $3.00 over the coming three years.  This resolution would have the $.50 per month that is set to expire June 30, 2006, restored effective July 1, 2006.  The proposal goes on to further increase minimum dues rates by $1.25 per month effective January 1, 2007;  $.76 per month effective January 1, 2008; and $.50 per month effective January 1, 2009.  The increase in the dues will be used to implement the work of the union including increased organizing activities, educational programs, legislative issues, up-to-date databases of our members, and improved communications which will help to build the AFSCME's strength in the workplace and allow us to continue to be a leader in worker's rights. I suspect that this will be the most hotly contested resolution before the body at the convention as it does hit us in one of our most hard hit spots - our pocketbooks.  It is also one of the best arguments for a progressive dues structure as, if we are successful in getting good contracts, we should enjoy decent wage increases which, in turn, leads to receiving better services from both the International and the Council and a greater acceptance on our part of increased dues as we see the value of spending some money to make more money and improving our benefits.   

I have a copy of the 21st Century Committee recommendations if you would like to read through it.  It lays out the groundwork for an extremely comprehensive plan for our future as a union.  It spells out the need for us to be more cohesive in our political efforts, in our legislative efforts, in our organizing efforts, and in improving members lives overall.  The bottom line to all of this is that it is clear that we will need to become more politically effective as those folks who are elected to public office end up being our bosses.  They are the ones who make the decisions about rules, regulations, laws, etc., that affect our daily work lives - how we do our work and what our work is - as well as our wages and benefits.  So, the better we are at getting friends elected to office, the more likely we are to get better contracts and better working conditions.  The better those are, the happier we are in both our work and personal lives.         

At the same time as this important AFSCME Convention is held, the Minnesota State AFL-CIO Convention will be held in St Paul.  The dates for that convention are August 7 - 9, 2006 at the Crowne Plaza, St. Paul Riverfront Hotel (the old Radisson - Riverfront).  We will need to have a full delegation at that convention, too, as the direction of the AFL-CIO as an effective body will be on the table.  The discussion and work to make changes in the local member bodies from Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council or St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly to six Local Area Councils throughout the state will come to fruition at this convention, and we, as a member Local, must be part of that discussion.  Our ability to have a voice in the Local Area Council must remain strong, so that we can continue in this venue, to have input in the working relationships between the body and elected officials who have an impact on our working lives.  At the time of writing this article, we have not received the call to that convention.  We will most likely elect these delegates at the July 5, 2006 GA so keep your eyes open for this opportunity. 

"Life does not put things in front of you that you are not able to handle." - Unknown 

I would like to take the time to address one more very important item in my article and that is stress.  We all face stress in our work lives as well as our personal lives.  Unfortunately, one of our sisters, Jill Schulte, was not able to overcome the stress that she faced, and she took her life.  My hope is that her act will serve as a wake-up call for those of us who are in danger of letting the daily stresses of life get to us.  Unlike the quote above, sometimes life does throw something at us that is more than we feel we can handle on our own.  Hopefully, we all have someone we trust whom we can turn to at that point - a friend, a family member, a coworker, someone in our church or community - to help us work our way through it.  Also, we have access to the County's Employee Assistance Program - one of our work benefits.  You can check it out at http://www.chsfs.org/Employee_Assistance.html or you can call 651-635-0477 OR 1-800-332-0477 OR TTY at 651-635-0013 for information about services available to you and your family.  You can also talk to your primary caregiver through our health plan, HealthPartners; talk to a Nurse Navigator at 952-883-5000 or call the Mental Health/Chemical Health Services Behavioral Health Personalized Assistance Line at 952-883-5811 or 1-888-638-8787.  You do have options.  Your ongoing good health and well-being is important to all of us.   

Please, do not let work become the be all and end all of your life.  We earn our vacation and sick leave for a reason - to be used to help us maintain not only our physical health, but also our mental health.  It is there to be used.  I know that many of us let our time accrue for a rainy day but what is the point of saving for the day that you do not reach or are not healthy when you do reach it?  Sometimes we have to put our health and well-being at the front of the line.  We certainly are not going to be able to serve our clients efficiently, effectively and respectfully if we do not take care of ourselves first.  

Stay Well,

Jean