FIGHT BACK -- Fight for Your Rights of Collective Bargaining: by Katie Farber, Local 34 Membership Secretary

Hopefully, all of us have now heard or read about Governor Pawlenty's plan to freeze public employee wages. The actual bill number is SF0372. This bill is about much more than freezing salaries - it is a Union Busting Bill.   

The bill, which is sponsored by Minority Leader David Senjem and Assistant Republican Minority Leaders David Hann, Chris Gerlach, Joe Gimse and Geoff Michael, would also ban step and longevity increases. It would ban units of government from negotiating any new pay or benefit increase for the next two years. 

Think about what that means - if health insurance increases, we would be stuck with the existing Employer contribution to our health insurance –and, members who are not at the top of their pay scale would not receive their merit/step increases.   

The bill also bans strikes and salary arbitration. AFSCME members have never had a strike at Hennepin County, and, as always, that would be the last resort and would require a majority vote by all the members, but by taking away our right to negotiate and our right to strike, this bill takes away ALL OF OUR COLLECTIVE BARGAINING POWER. It takes away the strength our predecessors fought for by passing the Public Employee Labor Relations Act.   

This bill would not just effect AFSCME members, but MAPE members, teachers, law enforcement officers, and hundreds of thousands of Union employees in the state. And would this really help the economy? Would our homes be the next ones to be foreclosed on? 

To fight back, I attended a town hall meeting in my community. I called one of my friends who is in MAPE (Minnesota Association of Professional Employees), and asked him to speak at the meeting, also. One of the sponsors of the wage freeze bill was present at this meeting. Quite a few people gave testimony about being the recipients of services provided by Health and Human Services, and asked politely that the benefits they and their disabled relatives receive not be reduced or eliminated. My MAPE brother testified before me, pointing out that this bill would take away our rights of collective bargaining, guaranteed by PELRA. 

When I spoke, I told everyone that this was about more than wages and budgets - this is about dismantling government services in Minnesota, and about defunding government to the point that it is totally ineffective, so the services can then be eliminated or privatized (our jobs given to elected officials’ cronies, where the employees will make about $12.00 per hour and the CEOs will pull down multi-million dollar salaries). I called this what it is - UNION BUSTING - and I told Rep. Chris Gerlach, and everyone else there, that Public Employees, who serve the poor, the weak, the disabled, the elderly, and the mentally ill and disabled, will not accept this as a "solution" - no way!   

I made an impact that day. I made a point to the elected officials, and also to all the others in that room, that Public Employees are not only the ones who deliver the services, we are the ones strong enough to fight back when the weak in our society are threatened. You can all do the same!   

The Union is YOU -- we must work together, in an organized way, to communicate with our elected officials and the public - use the facts on the website – and put our program funding into perspective with your friends and neighbors. Call your legislators, appear at a town hall meeting (the last scheduled are on 2/26/09, in Coon Rapids, Plymouth and St. Paul - maybe you can still appear, as this newsletter goes to press). Attend Day on the Hill, Wednesday, March 11th; if you can't take off the whole day, at least go for the rally in the rotunda at Noon. We are going to be heard at the Capitol that day. Now is the time to act!