From the Desk of the President (March, 2005)

2005 Contract Campaign

" ‘Radical’ simply means grasping things at the root."   Angela Davis, activist, writer, and educator

"We can't become what we need to be by remaining what we are."   - Oprah Winfrey

The AFSCME Mission is to promote the organization of workers in general and public employees in particular; to promote the welfare of the membership and to provide a voice in their determination of the terms and conditions of employment.  AFSCME is committed to the process of collective bargaining as the most desirable, democratic, and effective method to achieve this.

"It is wise to direct your anger towards problems - not people; to focus your energies on answers - not excuses."   - William Arthur Ward


So, what do the above have to do with us as union members?  Simply everything.  This column is dedicated to everyone who has asked what the UNION is going to do for our Local as we prepare for negotiations this year.  We face some very tough obstacles - the public's opinion/perception of us and the value of the work that we do, the Employer's desire to hold the line on staff and costs, the elected officials' desire to show the public that they are being accountable to them as they hold the line on taxes, our own issues with a willingness to get involved in the process, the amount of work that we have to do as we continue to hear the mantra "do more with less", a growing discontent with the "same old, same old". 

How many of you are happy with the 0% and 0% raises received in 2004 and this year?  How many of you are happy with the fact that the cost of living for such basic items as food, clothing, and housing has not stopped along with our lack of increased income?  How many of you agree that we should continue to pay more each year for our health insurance premiums without seeing an increase in those benefits?  How many of you feel that we can do better - much better?    All that being said, how many of you think that we can continue to approach the negotiations process in the same fashion as we have in the past? 

Representatives of the nine Hennepin County AFSCME Locals met on January 13, 2005, to discuss the collective bargaining process and how to approach it this year.  The consensus of the folks in the room was that we can do better - much better - but we need to rethink the way we do business.    We discussed the traditional collective bargaining process that has been used in the past - the members are surveyed about what they would like to see in the Union proposal.  The Local's Master Committee, a group of about 20 - 35 members sit down to tabulate the results and vote on what to include in the Local's wish list which is then brought forward to the larger Master Committee meeting of the nine AFSCME Locals who then vote on a master proposal with the Local's supplemental issue fine-tuned.  Once that has been completed, a smaller group of about 5-7 members, the Table Team, along with the Table Teams from the other 8 Locals begin to meet with representatives from Management to negotiate the contract for the next few years.  Reports via Table Talk are issued giving updates on the progress of the Table Teams.  Once the Employer has presented their final offer, the Table teams bring that back to the Master Committee for review and vote on a recommendation to the membership accept or reject.  A summation of the offer with the Committee's recommendation is given to the membership for a vote. 

The concern voiced by so many members is that there is very little room for input once the surveys have been completed and not enough information available during that process.  This was the main topic of discussion at the 1/13/05 meeting.  It was very clear to the representatives of all nine Locals that our membership wanted to be an integral part of the process at every step along the way this year.  The agreement from that meeting was that we would all go back to our Locals to propose that we try something new this year - a contract campaign - to address collective bargaining.

What is a contract campaign and how is different from the same old, same old?  The major difference is that the entire process is member driven.  Members are involved in doing one-on-one surveys with coworkers to find out what each members personal list is of top bargaining demands they would like to see AFSCME take to the bargaining table this year. Members will also be asked what they are willing to do to assist in achieving their goals.  As many members as are interested in doing so will be actively involved in tabulating the survey results and putting together the initial proposal to take to the Master Negotiations Committee meeting.  The membership will vote on the Local's final proposal at a General Assembly before it is presented to Management. 

A large Action Team comprised of members from all nine AFSCME Locals will plan and organize action events -  work on information for fliers and hand them out, design buttons for us to wear, decide to have a t-shirt day, sponsor a "contact your Commissioner hour" -  in support of the group at the bargaining table.  What actions are planed and when they should be taken are limited only by how creative this group will be.  The Union and Employer proposals and counter proposals will also be disseminated by the Action Committee - via a Table Talk or the Local's web site - so that the membership has this information as soon as it happens.  The members of the Action Team will decide what to do, how to do it and when to do it as they keep the membership current.  The importance of this group of members cannot be emphasized enough.  They will comprise the most important part of the entire process - getting information out to the body and keeping those lines of communication open. It will be very clear that this process is transparent - no hidden agendas - all out in the open and available for all to see. 

Local 34 already has a Strike Committee in place.  Current committee members are John Korman, Chair; Kevin Ihrke, Andrea Lennox, and Steven Martinetti.  If you are interested in joining them, please contact John.  The main purpose of this committee is to plan for the eventuality that, as a body, we end up deciding to reject the Employer's final offer.  If that happens, the membership needs to be prepared to go on strike so that we can hit the picket line immediately with those plans firmly in place long before they are needed.  Wes Volkenant wrote an excellent article in the February 2003 newsletter outlining his plans to prepare for the challenges of a possible strike - how to prepare for ongoing car payments, mortgages/rents, food, utilities.  It should be a very handy tool for the Strike Committee to use as part of their educational materials they prepare for dissemination to our members as part of strike preparation workshops.  This committee will be the folks who get all the detailed nuts and bolts together to run a successful picket line including how many picketers are needed at any given time, where pickets should be placed, what information will have to be given to the press, how to get our message out to the public, etc.  Hopefully we will not need to utilize any of the hard work and efforts of the committee.  However, it is better to plan for all possibilities and be prepared than to be shortsighted and ill prepared. 

Council 5 will be instrumental in providing education and training at every step in this process.  The leaders of the Council have committed to assisting all of the committees with research and information needed to prepare for this contract campaign.  The Council's phone bank will be available for any massive phone calling when needed.  They will help when we need press to educate the public on our issues.  If we need to get a letter campaign going, we will be able to utilize the resources of the print shop.  And, of course, our Business Agents will be at our side throughout the campaign. 

An extremely important part of this entire contract campaign process that cannot be overlooked is the importance of the politics and our elected officials.  The success of the campaign begins with how successful we are with getting our legislative agenda heard and acted on. We all know that the Legislature, at the both the Federal and State levels, determine the laws and statutes governing our work as well as what monies are available to the Employer to enable us to do our work.  What happens with the President's proposed budget trickles down to the state level.  What happens with the Governor's proposed budget will have a direct impact on the County's ongoing ability to fund our programs via LGA (local government aid) funding.  It is incumbent on us to be a part of that process by contacting our Senators and Representatives to let them know which issues are important to us and how their proposed bills will affect our clients and the services we provide to the residents of Hennepin County.  It has been stated before - if we want a good contract we need funding and if we want good funding we need good elected officials.  In order to keep those electeds on track, we need to stay informed and be active in that process.  Also, we should be aware that our AFSCME sisters and brothers throughout the state - state, city and county employees - are also facing their own contract campaigns so we are not alone in this initiative.  What affects us also affects all of them.  We need to support each other in our respective battles as that unified voice, heard throughout the state on a regular basis, will have a lasting impact on our ability to have success at our bargaining table. 

By the time you read this newsletter, you may very well have attended one of the Brown Bag lunchtime meetings being held at our various worksites to kick off this Contract Campaign.  We will give more information about the process, have one-on-one surveys on hand for completion, seek volunteers to take those surveys back to their units for completion, invite Fair Share fee payers to sign dues authorization cards to become full dues-paying members, have PEOPLE contribution sign up cards to add to our ability to pursue our political goals of strong labor candidates who will support our efforts at every level of government.  If you missed the meeting at your site, don't fret.  We have more planned as we are dedicated to providing opportunities for all of our membership to be involved. 

We have almost 5000 folks in the nine Hennepin County AFSCME bargaining units and, if we band together, that gives us an immense power base to achieve our goals. The members of the Local 34 Executive Board invite every one of you to join us in this campaign.   Yes, it is going to be a lot of hard work but the end result will be so sweet. We look forward to working with you as we plan for success.    Personally, I am very enthusiastic about joining with all of you as we prove that, regardless of our individual walks of life and beliefs, we can come together and prove that our collective determination will prevail. 

Together we can achieve great things!