From the Desk of the president (November, 2007)

Council 5 Convention: Thank you to the following members who were elected/appointed to attend the AFSCME Council 5 Convention on your behalf: Ibrahim Adam, Angel Alexander, Jean Ayer, Peggy Bennett, Chalmers Davis, DeAnna DeLoach, Katie Farber, Alexander Gordon, Terry Grace, Phillip Gray, John Herzog, Carolyn Johnson, Maggie Keating, Ester Killion, Andrea Lazo-Rice, Ronald McClure, Vicki Moore, Vicki Nelson, Betty Pharr, Cliff Robinson, Laurie Simon, Terri Stech, Scott Stromila, Shawnice Watson, Shannon Wesley, Kela Williams,  and Margaret Yzaguirre.  We had a good mix of first time and veteran delegates, long-time versus relatively new members, with a variety of ages and job classes - a good representation of our Local. We spent three days, September 27 - 29, 2007, in Duluth, attending workshops and general plenary sessions –learning about the Council, fellow members across the state and ourselves.    

From the comments shared with me by our delegates, the general consensus was this was an action-packed event with something for everyone. Some of the workshops on Thursday covered topics such as learning how to communicate our message to the media and to the public; the history of AFSCME and how we became Council 5; how to build our political power so that we can get more labor-friendly candidates elected to office; dealing with trust and conflict in the workplace; and how to plan for our retirement - yes, some of us will be retiring in the not-so-distant future! President Mike Buesing and Executive Director Eliot Seide gave relatively short and to-the-point speeches about the gains we have made over the past year, our successes, and places where we need to work on bettering ourselves. We heard sisters and brothers around the Council weigh in on resolutions to issues ranging from politics to organizing to communications to health insurance - all giving the Council 5 Executive Board directions for actions in the coming year. Cliff Robinson and I both sit on that E-Board, so we certainly paid attention to the discussions. One of the handouts in the convention packet was the annual report of Council 5 activities summarizing membership growth, political action and bargaining power. Pictures of Local 34 members were used in more than one part of the report to illustrate successful endeavors and actions in those areas. My favorite one was the picture of our stewards and officers, along with our sisters from Local 2822, flexing our collective muscle during a training earlier this fall on internal organizing. 

One thing that we found that we need to do better is to prepare ourselves before going to a convention. The suggestion was made that, once we have elected our delegates, we hold a meeting prior to the convention, to discuss the agenda, what our responsibilities are as delegates of our Local and the expectations regarding attendance of workshops, rallies, and doing the business of the convention. We agreed that we should also schedule times during the course of the convention when we all meet to regroup, find out what we are learning and to plan at least one group activity, be it a meal together or an outing - something to build our unity and enrich all of us. We can always find new ways to improve our processes. Thanks to all of our delegates for providing feedback. 

Mileage Grievance: As I write this article, it appears that we might have a settlement of our mileage grievance, which will make those of our members who have no County office other than the one in their home ‘whole’ for their unreimbursed mileage incurred since the inception of the new policy. Those members are the ones who meet the criteria for ‘home office’ as set forth in Section 280A (c)(1)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as IRS Publications 463 (Travel, Entertainment, Gift and Car Expenses) and 587 (Business Use of Your Home). If there is a settlement, the agreement will be posted on our web site as soon as we have the final signatures by the Union and the Employer. We will have information on how to submit claims for back pay for those members affected by the grievance and settlement. 

Barb Gassler’s Retirement: On behalf of the membership, I attended Barb's retirement party on October 19th to wish her well, to thank her for all her hard work doing Good & Welfare for us, and to give her a small token of our appreciation. She was thrilled with the AFSCME gear - a windbreaker pullover jacket, a cardigan, some t-shirts, socks and our Local 34 travel alarm clock (the alarm is set for 12:00 noon!) as well as some of our Local 34 pins from years gone by. She truly enjoyed them, especially the alarm clock. She said that she truly enjoyed working with all of us over the years and appreciated all of our kind words.  

Health Insurance: Many of you have taken time to contact me with feedback about health insurance in general, and the County's proposal for 2008. Many of you expressed your concerns about the rising cost of insurance. You stated that you felt that you and your families were already doing as much as you could to utilize your benefits wisely. Quite a few of you plainly stated that you do not buy into the theory that having those with single coverage pay something on the premium would cause them to make any better decisions about utilization than they are already doing. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback by the number of you who told me that you would consider dropping coverage if you had to pay anything for single coverage, as you are already losing ground with the rising cost of housing, food, clothing, utilities, transportation, etc., and that you have every dollar of your take-home pay budgeted for those items. You all indicated that this is an issue that is extremely important to you, regardless of whether you have single or family coverage. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and concerns. We will work very hard to achieve that goal. 

I hope that the coming month brings us much to be thankful for, Jean