From the Desk of the President (October, 2015)

Importance of one-on-one conversations, how to really listen to what our members are saying and why we need to do this on a daily basis. We are facing some of the largest threats to our ability to be a union with cases being heard by the Supreme Court. We need to be prepared now to fight anti-union forces and this training gives us the tools to do that. I facilitated one of the tables for the training. My biggest fear was that the members would hesitate to talk. Ha – union members be silent? That is not going to happen and it did not. From beginning to end, the conversation flowed and suggestions were shared. I think that the sisters and brothers were disappointed when the training ended as they had so many good ideas on approaches to questions members might raise.

Another highlight of the convention took place that after-noon when our own Tywanna Gray participated in a panel discussion of how AFSCME Strong has been carried out in our local. One comment she made was very telling – that she saw people at work every day but did not know them. After doing a site visit and talking to a person she saw each day but not a Local 34 member, she realizes the importance of taking the time to say “Hi” and finding out what coworkers do. We may not all be in the same local, but we are probably all members of one our six AFSCME locals. We are not in this alone.

Congratulations to two of our Local 34 members, Ruth Salik and Kenneth W. Garnier, on their honor of being selected to attend the Minnesota Union Leadership Program conducted by Labor Education Services. They have already attended the two day introduction to the program and will attend four more one day sessions over the course of the coming year. They will learn about our labor movement and gain the skills needed to address the challenges ahead. Past Local 34 graduates of the program are Wes Volkenant, Kela Williams and Heather Hemmer.

Contract negotiations are moving along. We are doing things a bit differently this year. Normally we hold our supplemental meetings outside of the scheduled days for negotiations. This year we had our first meeting on September 14th, during the day. Also, in the past, our Council 5 Staff Representative has done the majority of the presentation and discussion on the supplemental proposals items. This year, the members of your Table Team very capably presented the items and provided the reasons why we have those items in our proposal. Who better to discuss our concerns than the folks who are experiencing them? Alex Erickson, Brenda Louise, Kenneth Garnier, Kathy Kelly, Maggie Keating, Tywanna Gray and myself all did our part to impress upon Management the importance of our requests.

As always, what happens away from the negotiations table is more important that what happens at that table. When you wear a green shirt on Green Tuesdays, you send a very clear message to the Employer that you support the work that the members of the Table team are doing on your behalf. You are also showing Management that we all stand together on our issues – that we, new workers and seasoned workers, Case Management Assistants and Veteran Service Representatives, male and female, young and old, stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers of all six AFSCME locals. So, thank you and keep it up!! For the most up to date news, check out our Local 34 web page: www.afscmelocal34.org.

FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) - a coworker came to me with a few questions about the FMLA forms. In the course of our conversation, s/he told me about another coworker who had been out for surgery but did not request FMAL as thought s/he would not qualify as would only be out for a short period of time. The member asked me if the length of time mattered as s/he would only need a few weeks at most and was concerned that she would not qualify for FMLA. My response was that the length of time should not stop anyone from requesting FMLA for a health issue – theirs or that of a family member. FMLA is there to provide protection for you when you need it. Anyone with any questions about FMLA should contact the LAM office, either by leaving a message at 612-348-4082 or sending an email to hr.lam.office@hennepin.us. The folks there are very helpful and will be able to answer your questions. They are our Hennepin County experts on FMLA. You can read more about FMLA at http://www.hennepin.us/employees/family-medical-leave.

In closing, I would like to share a quote with you that I heard at the funeral of Katie Farber’s sister, Karen Farber, Local 2822 retiree who passed away last month. The quote, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”, resonated with me. I immediately thought about how we are constantly judged by the number of phone calls and home visits are made, how many cases are opened or closed, how much money we collect, how much of our time is reported on any of our various computer systems for state & federal funding, how many cases are referred to court, how quickly our calls are returned or cases opened, etc. What is not counted is the time we helped a client resolve a difficult situation such as a gas turn off or a lost child support payment; the time we looked through our resources to give information to a client on the closest food shelf when they ran out of food; the time we just sat and listened to a client tell their story because they needed someone to hear what they had experienced; the times we worked above and beyond to help a client find a way to cope with a difficult child/parent/neighbor; the time we bolster our coworkers when they have lost a client or just had a difficult case. Yet all of that time counts – really and truly counts. It might not be counted by the bean counters but it counts with us.

Jean