When is a Friend a Friend?

In the normal course of human relations a friend is some one who cares about you, who values a relationship with you, and most of all, is someone whom you can count on when you really need him or her. And then there is politics. Sometimes politicians seem to play by different rules. It is kind of like the rather naÔve girl asking her insistent boyfriend,Ē I know you say you love me tonight but will you respect me in the morning?Ē   

We in the labor movement are sometimes like that naÔve girl. Politicians come to us asking for our endorsement and support that we give with the understanding that, when we really need them, they will be there for us. Often our expectations are met and long and enduring political friendships blossom. In other cases, like the naÔve girl, we find that they really donít respect us in the morning. The most notorious recent case of that nature was the way Attorney General Lori Swanson and her sidekick, Mike (Gabby) Hatch turned on AFSCME when the Assistant Attorneys General in her office tried to form a union. Despite the fact that we endorsed both Swanson and Hatch and gave them massive support of money and boots-on-the ground work, their reactions to our efforts would make a right wing union buster proud. 

There is an old saying that declares,Ē Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.Ē The same is true of labor unions. And we donít forget. 

Well, now we need our friends. Lack of funding from the state and federal governments has placed the county government in a tough position. The county board must rely on local property taxes to fund needed services. We were hoping that the Board would approve County Administrator Richard Johnsonís recommended levy increase of 7.98 % for the 2009 budget. Three of our friends, Commissioners McLaughlin, Dorfman and Johnson, did vote for that percent. Imagine our disappointment when two of our friends, Commissioners Opat and Stenglein, voted for only a 7% increase, especially after one of them had promised to support a high enough levy to ensure that we would have the resources so that we would be able to continue providing services to county residents. Our disappointment was made even more bitter by all the talk of possible layoffs because of the lack of funds.  

But we are not unreasonable people. We recognize that our friends must weigh many factors when making these decisions. We will be talking to each of them very soon. We will show them how they can manage this budget crunch without laying off any of our people. For example, we will show them how their administrators in HSPHD have contracted out thousands of cases to private venders who receive huge reimbursements from the federal government. Those contracts with vendors can be cancelled and those cases can be serviced by county social workers.   

The union also believes that county government is top heavy with highly paid administrative jobs. Trimming some of the fat from county administration could go a long way towards reducing the deficit and the whole operation would probably run better.  

Yes, we need our friends. And, yes, we expect them to respect us in the morning. AFSCME Local 34, September, 2008

~ Cliff Robinson, AFSCME Local 34