From the Desk of the President (September, 2011)

I would like to introduce you to our 2011 Local 34 Table Team for the upcom-ing negotiations - Dana Meyer, Kathy Kelly, Kimberly Kurth, Maggie Keating, Paul Madison, Wes Volkenant and my-self. The appointment of this Table Team was approved by the members attending the August 3rd General Assembly. We will represent all of you at the bargaining table along with the Table Team members from Locals 552, 1719, 2822, 2864 and 2938. Our Council 5 Staff Representatives, Jeff Dains, Mark Baker and Matt Nelson, will be our spokespersons at the table - explaining our proposal to the Employer and asking the questions we have about the Employer's proposal. The Master Negotiations Commit-tee completed its work in putting together our joint proposal at our last meeting, Au-gust 16th. A lot time and effort went into crafting the proposal as we sorted through the many suggestions brought forward by the various locals. Some of the ideas that were brought forward as supplemental issues for one local were adopted as part of the main proposal for all of us as we felt the ideas were so good that they should apply to all of us. We present our proposal to the Employer on Monday, September 19th. You will all receive a copy of the Table Talk with the proposal summary prior to that date. We need members to serve on both our Action Team and our Strike Committee to support the efforts of the members at the Table. If you feel that you can devote some of your time and energy into planning and carrying out actions, please contact Cathe-rine McMahon, Chair of the Action Team. Likewise, if you think that putting your efforts into the Strike Committee is something that you can do, please contact David Cohoes, Chair of that committee. It takes all of us working together to achieve our goals - even if all you can do is give an hour or two of your time, it all adds up. Election of delegates to the Council 5 Convention will be held at the September 7th General Assembly held at 5:30 PM in HSB 110. The convention will be held Thursday, October 6, 2011 - Saturday, October 8, 2011 in Duluth, Minnesota. A motion was passed to send up to 34 mem-bers, paying 2 days lost time (Thurs - Fri), 3 nights lodging (Wed - Fri), 3 days per diem (Thurs - Sat), and mileage to and from Duluth for the those elected to attend the convention. If you are interested in putting your name forward and are not able to attend the General Assembly, please con-tact one of our Vice Presidents - Vicki Moore and Wes Volkenant - by 12:00 noon on Wednesday, September 7, 2011 ( I will be absent from the meeting due to my second carpal tunnel surgery). The convention theme is "We Are One" with the work-shops revolving around Human Rights, Civil rights and Worker Rights. It is looking to be an exciting event. Council 5 Retiree Chapter is up and running with over 1250 members signed up so far! It is open to any AFSCME Council 5 member who has retired. Dues are $15.00 per year -Local 34 has a standing policy of pay-ing the first year's dues for anyone wishing to join the Retiree Chapter. You will join other retirees in address-ing issues that affect you as a retiree -protecting retirement benefits such as PERA and Social Security, health insurance, etc. - and yes, since every-thing that drives our retirement benefits is governed by laws and statutes, talking to politicians about those is-sues. It is not all work - there will be fun. If you are planning on retiring anytime soon, please let me know if you are interested in joining so we can get the information to you and, when you join, pay your first year's dues. Wellness activities - I touched on this subject in my July article, and am doing so again this month because it is such an important topic. In order to qualify for a reduced co-pay for prescriptions and office visits in 2012, you (and your spouse if s/he is covered by your insur-ance plan) need to complete two health and wellness activities, as well as the health assessment, and log those activities on the Preferred One web site. More information about qualifying classes, webinars and activities can be found on the Benefits web site which is accessible from both your work and home computers.

Keep in mind that if you and your spouse choose to watch the same webinar, you must each log on separately in order to qualify to use that as one of your activi-ties, as it will only be registered to whomever logged on when registering. That is one lesson that a number of our folks have learned already when they entered their information on the Pre-ferred One site. Self insurance update - according to the information we received at the most recent Labor/Management Health Care Committee meeting, at the end of July 2011, we have a reserve amount of close to $15 million dollars sitting in the self insurance fund. That means that the premiums that the Employers is putting into the designated fund are more than the costs paid out so far. That is good news but it must be tempered by the fact that the bills for services are not always submitted by the providers in a timely fashion. According to Pre-ferred One, they have about $4.2 mil-lion in pending claims as of this month - claims they have received but have not yet processed. We are keeping a very close eye on these figures to see if mak-ing the switch from being fully insured - paying the monthly premiums to Health Partners - or being self insured where we put the money in the designated fund and then wait for claims to be processed and paid - is going to prove to be the right choice for Hennepin County. That change, along with all of being more responsible consumers, is looking to be the right choice. The one immediate benefit to the switch is that we now have monthly data on claims, which can be broken down into medical, dental and pharmacy costs so that we can see how things are going for all of us.

One question that I am asked over and over by many of you is, why do we get so involved in the political side of things? Why do we call you about getting out to vote? How do we even decide which candidate the union is endorsing? The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is that everything we do at work is governed by some state or federal statute or law with the corollary that it is politicians who create those statutes and laws. The complex answer is that, in order for us to have any hope of having those statutes and laws address our needs for the work that we do and to provide a real benefit to the people we serve, we have to find people who will listen to us and will write good statutes and laws - ones that actually allow us to do that work, ones that provide adequate funding for the services we provide. So, even though a lot of our time and energy over the next three - four months will be consumed by negotiations for our new contract, we will also be looking at the political scene for 2012 as all of our state representatives and senators will be up for re-election. When I look at the farce that took place in the State Legislature this year and will most likely be repeated in 2012, it is clear that we need to pay atten-tion to who is going to run in 2012. Per-haps it is time to think about peo-ple who tell us they are our friends but do little or nothing to support us. Perhaps it is time to look for new faces and ideas. Perhaps it is time to encourage unions members to step up to the plate and run for office. Perhaps..... Take time to enjoy your Labor Day holiday - it IS our holiday!    Jean