From the Desk of the President (November, 2010)

Announcements:

As noted in my October article, a special election was held at our October 20th Executive Board meeting to fill the vacant Member-at-Large position.  I am very happy to note that we were in a unique situation in that we had what I term “an embarrassment of riches” with four very qualified candidates putting their names forward for the opening.  Kathy Kelly, a Principal Child Support Officer at the Family Justice Center, was elected to the position and took her oath of office immediately after the election.  Please join me in thanking all the members who put their names forward and extending a warm welcome to Kathy as she transitions from being one of our stewards to an officer of the local. 

We will have four tickets for the Resource Center of the Americas 27th Annual Gala Fundraiser.  The tickets will be given as door prizes at the November 3, 2010 General Assembly.   This event, a buffet with beverages and a silent auction, will be held Friday, November 5th from 7:00 PM – midnight at Plaza Verde, 1515 E. Lake St. Minneapolis MN.  Music will be provided by Rumba Eterna with a free salsa dance lesson given by the folks from Social Dance Studio. 

Local 3400, Child Care Providers Together, are sponsoring their annual Toys for Tots drive and are asking Council 5 members and locals to contribute.  They will appear on KARE 11 News with the Toys for Tots presentation, on December 13, 2010.  Please bring an unwrapped toy to the December 1, 2010 General Assembly to add to their collection for this endeavor. 

Convention Highlights:

Thank you for sending me to both the Minnesota AFL-CIO and AFSCME Council 5 conventions held in late September - early October.  Both events were packed with opportunities to meet fellow unionists from across the state with the common goal of improving our work lives. 

Some of the highlights of the AFL-CIO convention were the re-election of Shar Knutson as President and Steve Hunter as Secretary-Treasurer (both Shar and Steve come out of our ranks as AFSCME members) and the speech by Mark Dayton to the body as he explained what he would like to help create jobs, build our economy, provide more resources for schools, and, in general, make life better for working folks.  As he spoke, you could feel a sense of hope spread across the room.  Looking at the faces of my sisters and brothers, I was struck by what by the truth in numbers about unions.  Almost one-third of the people in the room were members of AFSCME with members of Education Minnesota, ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union), and the Letter Carriers – all public employee groups – joining us to make up at least one-half of the representatives present.  

Those numbers speak volumes as it supports what I often read in the newspaper, especially in those wonderful reader comments, that many of our union jobs are in the public sector.  The number of union members on the trades has gone down steadily over the past few years.  We really do need some help from our Governor to get the economy healthy again.  I would love to see more Laborers, Carpenters, Sheet Metal Workers, Bricklayers, etc., out working and keeping their families needs met.  I would truly enjoy seeing fewer of them working odd jobs to make ends meet.  My hope is that when we meet in two years for the next AFL-CIO convention, there will be a lot more representatives from the trades present in the room.

The Council 5 convention was devoted to elections this year – the elections of our Council 5 Executive Board for the coming two years and the elections of our endorsed candidates to their respective offices.  We again have two Local 34 members serving on the Board.  Clifford Robinson had served as a representative from the County sector but he could not run again as he is now retired.  Wes Volkenant was nominated as a candidate from the County sector and was elected to fill one of the five positions.  A huge thanks goes to Cliff for sharing his years of experience and wisdom with us as a Council 5 Executive Board member, and a big welcome goes to Wes as he joins the Board.  I was once more elected as a West Metro representative on the Board.  I did let folks know at the convention that this will be my last two year term on the Council 5 Executive Board as we have so many qualified and willing members who want to serve the Council in this capacity.  I have been lucky to have helped guide the three Councils – 6, 14 and 96 – through the merger and finding our path to who we, Council 5, are.  I look forward to the coming two years and am willing to answer any questions from those of you who might be interested in running for the Board in two years.   

One of the workshops that I was going to attend at the convention was on Bullying in the Workplace.  Bullying is defined as the deliberate, hurtful and repeated mistreatment of a target.  I received a call just as the workshop began.  Ironically, it was a member who has been dealing with a supervisor who has been bullying her.  I spent the next 45 minutes talking to the member about her situation, listening to her voice her concerns and frustrations with what had just happened during a meeting with the supervisor and discussing a plan of action to address those concerns. 

Bullying is something that I take very seriously; believe it or not, I was bullied by one of my supervisors.  It was an extremely difficult work environment.  I loved my job but hated going in to work as I had to face that supervisor every day.  I never knew from one day to the next what I was going to be yelled at for doing - or not doing - when I arrived at my desk.  Sometimes it was that I had not returned a phone call as quickly as the supervisor thought I should done.  Sometimes it was that I had left my desk drawer open when I stepped away from the desk.  Sometimes it was that I was too friendly with the support staff.  Sometimes I wasn't friendly enough.  What was most frustrating during this time is that my caseload was current, my reviews were either fully capable of highly commendable, and there never was a complaint about the quality of my work.  Actually, my supervisor would hold my work out to other staff as a model to follow for documentation of actions taken as well as how cases should be maintained.  The last straw for me was when I was called by my daughter's school to meet them at the doctor's office as she was having a severe asthma attack.  The process at that time was that we were supposed to let our supervisor know if we had to leave and have the time approved prior to leaving the office.  If she was not available, then we would need to find another supervisor to get approval of the time.  On this day, the call came in over the lunch hour so none of the supervisors were in their offices and I had to look over the entire floor, finally finding our Division Director.  When I told him what I needed, his response was, "Just go. Your daughter needs you.", so I left - after letting our receptionist know that I was gone, why I was leaving and that I would call later if I was not returning to work that day.  I got to the doctor's office at least 1/2 hour after my daughter was there and found that they could not start any medical help until I arrived.  That was upsetting to me as her health could have taken a turn for the worse due to that delay.  In spite of my concerns for my daughter, I found that I was focusing part of my attention on worrying about what would happen to me when I got back to work as I knew my supervisor would be angry instead.  When I returned to work the next day, my supervisor called me into her office and proceeded to berate me for leaving without telling her and that if it happened again, I would be disciplined.  That is when I realized her bullying behavior would not stop unless I confronted her on it.  I finally stood up to her, letting her know that my daughter was first and foremost in my life and that work was second so, if I ever got a call like that again, I would leave a note on her desk and go.  I could feel the yoke of worry slip off my shoulders and I walked out of her office feeling as if I had reclaimed my sanity and control of my work life.  It was not an easy thing to do but it needed to be done.

Too many of us are in similar situations.  Sometimes it is insidious - just a snide remark or caustic statement - delivered with a smile so you "know" the supervisor doesn't really mean it but those comments are made on a regular basis.  Sometimes it is very obvious with a supervisor choosing one person to pick on - nothing is ever good enough - and everyone in the unit knows who the victim is.  Sometimes it begins with a simple error in work and then, all of a sudden, the supervisor hovers over you to make sure it never happens again. Needless to say, when someone stands over you, you will hit the wrong key or use the wrong code.   Sometimes, you need to take sick leave for yourself or a family member on an irregular basis and you are called in to the office every time you come back to have a "chat" about why you were gone but they are not about the illness, it is all about the work your coworkers had to do in your absence and this continues every time you have to take time off.  Bullying is never appropriate and never acceptable.  Please let me know if you feel that you are in this type of situation.  Hopefully, we can find a way to make it end.

We will end the month with visions of turkeys dancing around our heads as we celebrate Thanksgiving.  I am very grateful to work with all of you.     

Jean