FROM THE DESK OF THE PRESIDENT (NOVEMBER, 2002)

The Executive Board held a special election at the October 16th meeting to fill the vacant position of Paraprofessional Executive Board Member-at-Large.  Please join the members of  the Executive Board in welcoming Wes McGee, as he assumes his newest role in serving our Local effective Nov 1, 2002.  He will bring a wealth of information with him.

ANNOUNCEMENT

A motion was passed at the October 16th Executive Board meeting to send up to three members to attend the Minnesota Department of Human Rights 19th Annual Conference which takes place on Friday, December 6, 2002. The conference will be held at the Touch Stone Energy Place at River Centre, 175 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN starting at 8:30 AM with registration and a continental breakfast beginning at 7:30 AM. Expenses covered by the Local are registration, mileage, parking and lost time. The election will be held at the November 6th General Assembly. If you are interested in putting your name forward for this election and cannot attend the meeting, or would like more information about the conference, please contact Jean Diederich at 348-0266, by no later than noon on November 6th.  

We have breaking news on the status of the parking reimbursement policy for part-time employees who have car available status in the Children, Family and Adult Services Department. After discussions at the monthly Meet & Confer meetings with Dr. David Sanders, a decision has been made to change this policy back to the original status. This means that any part-time employee in the Department with car available status who had their reimbursement changed because of that part-time status will now be able to get their parking reimbursed at the full monthly rate retroactive to July 1, 2002, when the policy was initiated. You should contact your supervisor to complete the reimbursement forms for the months of July to present. We have an agreement, reached at our October 16th Meet & Confer, that the requests for the corrective reimbursements will be processed by the end of the year. Karen Wahlund stated that she will notify the Managers and Supervisors of this policy change immediately.

The Presidents of the nine AFSCME Locals, along with our Business Agents, meet every other month with Bill Peters and his staff from Labor Relations to talk about issues affecting the members of our Locals.  One of the issues on the agenda for the September 23rd meeting was that of FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act).  I am not going to go into how the process works as you can find that information on the County's website under benefits but I do want to stress one piece that you should all note.  It is the supervisor's obligation to inform the employee of their rights under FMLA when an employee notifies her/him of a need to be on family medical leave such as birth, adoption, illness, surgery, etc., or when they can see that an employee might be in need of the benefits of this law due to health needs.  I stress this as several of our members have shared with me the fact that they had to contact Benefits on their own to obtain the information even after requesting leave under FMLA.  Please take the time to visit the Benefits site on the County Intranet and read about this program so that you are informed.

We also meet every other month with Sandy Vargas, County Administrator and her staff.  At the October 3rd meeting, Ms. Vargas gave us an update of the budget for 2003.  The recommendation to the County Board is that the levy increase will be 2.3%.   We also discussed security measures at County facilities.  A consulting firm reviewed current practices, and has made suggestions for improvements.  The Board has still not made a decision on the public parking in the Government Center parking ramp although the surrounding buildings have been surveyed finding that they have reopened their ramps to the public for parking.  We made a request that the products in the Hennepin County Employee Store be purchased from sweatshop free companies and presented information about this initiative that has already been implemented in other public entities.  Ms. Vargas wanted to know if AFSCME had an official policy on immigrants' rights and noted that she had a concern about taking income away from workers in those companies.  We did point out that our goal was not to deprive workers of their jobs but to ensure that they would have safe working conditions and a living wage such as we enjoy.  I noted that this change will happen only if entities such as the County take the initiative to require sweat-free products as that will have more of an impact on companies than an individual consumer.   She stated that she will look into our request and get back to us.

You should have received notice of the changes in health care providers and rates for 2003. The Labor/Management HealthCare Committee studied all of the information and the proposals from Health Partners, MHP and  Blue Cross/Blue Shield.  Each year we have a series of meetings with information provided to us about the proposed increases and the rational for those changes.  It is extremely frustrating to sit and listen to all the reasons why the costs continue to climb - mostly due to increases in costs for drugs.  Some of it is due to improvements in medical procedures which do have a cost attached.  Our workforce is aging with a high percentage in the baby boom range so, as we get older, we are using more services and demanding better procedures.  I would liked to have come to you and reported that we were able to convince the providers to give us those services at a lower cost.  As you have read in the information provided by Benefits, that did not happen.  The decision to recommend a change from MHP to Blue Cross/ Blue Shield was made only after the members felt that all our concerns about the impact of this change had been answered.  Please make sure to read the comparisons so that you can make an informed decision about your coverage for 2003. 

That is enough for this month.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving celebration.

Jean