From the Desk of the President (May, 2008) 

1.      Nominations and election of delegates for the 2008 AFSCME International Convention

2.      Nominations and election for the unfilled Member-at-Large position – May 21 E-Board meeting

3.      Final - I hope - mileage grievance update

4.      Local 34 Executive Board retreat

5.      The County Budget

6.      Seniority list

7.      Dignity & Respect

8.      Health Care Savings Plan presentations

9.      Out on leave – really 


1.      Nominations and elections of delegates for the 2008 AFSCME International Convention: We will take nominations at the May 7, 2008 General Assembly for five delegates and six alternates to attend the AFSCME International Convention on July 27 - August 1, 2008. It will be held in San Francisco this year. The Local voted to send our complement of six delegates (the President is an automatic delegate) to the convention. The alternates will be ranked in order, as, if an elected delegate is unable to attend the convention, the 1st alternate will fill that delegate position. Expenses covered are as follows: registration costs; up to five days lost time; seven nights lodging; per diem of $64.00 for seven days; airfare and transportation to & from the airport in both Minneapolis and San Francisco. Any member interested in putting their name forward for this election should attend the meeting on May 7th, or send me an e-mail by no later than noon on that day.


2.      Nominations and election for the unfilled Member-at-Large position: Only five members put forth their names for the six Member-at-Large Executive Board positions during the nominations process. Under the terms of our Constitution, the Executive Board will accept nominations from any member in good standing for one year, from May 1, 2007, at the May 21 E-Board meeting, and will hold an election at that meeting. If you are interested, please put your name forward either by attending the meeting, held at 5:30 pm in Room 917, Human Services Building (525 Portland Ave S) or by e-mailing 1st Vice President Wesley Volkenant, by no later than Noon on Tuesday, May 20, 2008. Each candidate will have an opportunity to tell the Board why s/he is interested in the position, and to answer questions from the Board members before they vote.


3.      Mileage grievance update: We have finally reached a resolution to our class action grievance on the mileage policy. This is a thanks in no small part to the hard work of Barbara Harrison, who agreed to sign the grievance as an affected member, Matt Nelson and John Herzog, as well as the ongoing feedback from our grievants - all of you who had been hit in the pocketbook with the change in the policy effective May 1, 2007. Your unwavering support and determination made it very clear that you were not satisfied with and unwilling to accept the "just because" response to our question "What is the basis for this change?" A special thanks goes to Curt Haats, Chief Financial Officer for the Human Services & Public Health Department for all the time he spent answering our questions and relaying information to us upon request. The background and terms of the resolution to the grievance as they can be found on the Local 34 web site HERE, so I will not repeat them here.


There are two points that I do want to make about this:

1st - Please make sure that you read the instructions put out by the Department regarding how to determine if your home office meets the criteria for "Principal Place of Business" and submit the form to your supervisor for approval. Also, you do need to submit your mileage reimbursement forms for the period from May 1, 2007 through the effective date of the settlement. All back mileage requests will be handled as quickly as practicable. There is no deadline given, but I would suggest that you submit now – you’ve waited long enough for this conclusion.


2nd - You do not need to be a Social Worker (this is the job class with the largest number of grievants but it is not the only job class) to be one of the employees affected by this action. We have many other job classes who are "car available" and receive reimbursement for their mileage for client visits, etc. As long as you work from home and meet the criteria for the "Principal Place of Business", you should check to make sure that you have been compensated for all of your mileage since May 1, 2007.


Make no mistake, this is a huge victory for our Local and everyone involved deserves a round of applause. The losses faced by our members, especially in light of the climbing rates at the gas pumps, was growing more prohibitive by the day. We had members thinking about leaving clients they loved working with, and jobs they loved doing, because the County was not willing to cover the cost of gas for County business – a double loss for all of us. Thanks to all of you for sticking this one out.


4.      Local 34 Executive Board retreat: The officers of the Local attended an all-day retreat on Friday, March 28, 2008. One of the major topics of discussion was our history and, stemming from that, where do we go from here. The face of our Local, the work that we do, the job classes we represent, the clients we serve, the way we do business have all changed dramatically since our charter in April 1952. All of that will change even more in the next ten years or so as we face budget shortfalls, mass retirements of the baby boomers, experience more technological advances which will bring more changes with how we do our work, and see regionalization, so where we work will change. One issue that we agreed on is that we need to advocate for ourselves and the work that we do when talking to Managers, Commissioners and the public. Some of the topics we agreed to review are: look at our Constitution and Standing Rules to update and better define the duties of the officers, review our meeting structure, find ways to attract and retain stewards, involve new members in Local activities, and develop new Local leaders. We also agreed that we will spend time at each of our Executive Board meetings to discuss these topics so that our Local can be even more effective than we are now.


 Wesley Volkenant put together a terrific Power Point presentation summary of our retreat which he shared with the Executive Board. A big thanks goes to him for his wonderful summation of all our work. Also, thanks go to Judy Carlson, Council 5 Education Department, for serving as our facilitator and keeping us in order - a daunting task at best! We have already worked on one topic at our April Executive Board meeting - a calendar of activities that our Local does on a month-by-month basis as well as those activities we must do monthly. Thanks go to Kela Williams for managing to capture all the duties and deadlines we lobbed at her. We have trusted that this information be passed on from outgoing officers to their successors by word of mouth which has proven to be a very effective method –hit or miss at best. Now that we have this in writing, the information will be readily available to our Local so that we do not miss a deadline in the absence of one of our officers.


5. The County Budget: I attended the bimonthly AFSCME Local President's meeting with our County Administrator, Richard Johnson on Monday, April 21, 2008. The main topic of discussion was the budget. Mr. Johnson did not pull any punches on the outlook for the remainder of this year and for 2009. HCMC, the Hennepin County Medical Center, will have less funding so we will most likely see higher uncompensated care costs. Health care costs for employees will increase by 9.5% for 2009 based on our agreement with HealthPartners. The Human Services & Public Health Department (HSPHD) will see over $14 million in cuts due to loss of funding for Targeted Case Management and Child Support. He stated that the County Board has set Child Services and Child Support as high priorities and that not all of the cuts for HSPHD will be incurred by the department. He will look to other County Departments to help share those costs. Property taxes are not going to be a viable source of income to count on for the 2009 budget due to the high number of foreclosures, the loss on estimated market values for housing across the County and the earmark from those taxes for the Library - 2.9% - that was set by the Legislature when the Hennepin County/Minneapolis Library merger was approved. We did ask about an early buy-out program such as those that had been offered in the past. The last program is still being paid for now with vacancies still not filled so they are not looking at doing this again. He will ask the Departments to have their proposed budgets to his office by the end of June so that he can present his recommendations to the County Board in September. We did ask him if he had received responses from employees to his request for suggestions on costs savings. Mr. Johnson said that he has received about 85 ideas which are being reviewed and will be passed on to the respective Departments. He did state that he was very impressed with the content of the suggestions - they were well thought out - and appreciated that people took their time to present them. The representatives from the unions thanked Mr. Johnson for his candor as it goes a long way to setting the stage for open dialog.


6. Seniority list: Many of you work in HSPHD so have had an opportunity to read the e-mails from Rex Holzemer. What County Administrator Johnson voiced in his meeting was an affirmation of the news Rex has been sharing with us. The bottom line is that, barring a huge influx of money from state and federal funding sources, we will face an unprecedented number of cuts in staff by the end of 2009. The worst case scenario, with no rollbacks of funding cuts, or no monies from the state or county to fill in some of those cuts, is a loss of 410 FTE's (full-time equivalencies) out of a Department with current FTE complement of 2865. We continue to hope that some of the cuts for child support reimbursement will be rolled back with a bill before the House at the federal level. Targeted Case Management cuts could be put off with a bill for a moratorium until after the administration under the President elected this fall takes office next year but that is only a temporary fix - if it passes. The bottom line for all of us is that we need to contact our legislators and ask that they support the bills introduced and vote for them when they come to the floor. The other thing that you should do is make sure to check the most recent Local 34 seniority list on the Labor Relations web site or the Local 34 web site. If you think your hire/reinstatement date is incorrect, please send me e-mail with an explanation so that we can forward it on for review. (Please note that there have been some glitches in the list such as more than one listing for a job class and that we are working on them).


7.   Dignity & Respect. The Dignity & Respect pilot projects at the Library, the Service Center and Century Plaza will all be reviewed at the next Dignity & Respect Meet & Confer in June. Each project will be responsible to have an update of their processes, what has been accomplished, what the future goals are and what is next for them. Chalmers Davis and I are the Local 34 representatives to this AFSCME and Management Meet & Confer group. We will keep you updated on the information after the June meeting.

8.   Health Care Savings Plan presentations: As part of our 2008-2009 contract, we agreed that the County and the union would jointly sponsor informational sessions at work sites around the County to educate our members about the Health Care Savings Plan (HCSP) to be offered as an option to the Early Retiree Health Insurance Program (ERHIP). The meetings will be held in June so that members can study the information presented and make an educated decision on which option they choose by the July 1, 2008 deadline. ERHIP is now offered only to those employees hired prior to January 1, 2008 - anyone hired after January 1, 2008 automatically participates in the HCSP. Just keep in mind this is a one-time irrevocable decision. You do not get to change your mind about your choice. If you do not choose, you will automatically default to ERHIP.

 Some questions members have asked me are: Which program will be better for me if I retire before I hit age 65 and am Medicare eligible? Which one is going to do me the most good if I leave the County before I retire? What do I need to consider if I think that I am going to retire before age 65 and could benefit from ERHIP? What if I leave the County's employment and come back at a later date? What happens to the money in the HCSP if I leave the County? I strongly encourage you to attend one of these sessions (notice of times and dates will be sent to you in an e-mail so be on the lookout for it) so that any questions you might have can be answered by the folks from the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), the firm that will handle the HCSP for the County.


 9.   Out on leave: Really, I do mean it this time. Due to an error on the part of a doctor, the leave that I was supposed to take the end of January did not happen. Instead, I will be out of leave from May 13th to about the end of June. Wesley Volkenant is the 1st Vice President for this year so please contact him for issues normally directed to me. If you are not able to reach Wes, Mary Kay Windels is the 2nd Vice President and can also assist you.


Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about any items in my article. We have some tough times ahead of us but we are a strong, capable group of people. We will be able to face the decisions we need to make - even when they are not easy ones to make.
In closing, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes as it pretty much sums up our current situation: "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.” - Donald Rumsfeld


Enjoy the weather - see you when I get back,