State AFSCME Leaders Gather for Annual State Employee Policy Committee Conference

Newly elected members of Council 5's State Employee Policy Committee
Newly elected members of Council 5's State Employee Policy Committee

More than 330 leaders from state AFSCME locals gathered Friday for the annual State Employee Policy Committee conference.

They elected the SEPC Board, which includes members from corrections, MnDOT, human services, Minnesota State, natural resources, veterans’ affairs, administration, DEED, education, health, judicial, revenue and public safety.

Council 5 executive director John P. Westmoreland
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“You make our state work,” Council 5 executive director John P. Westmoreland told the packed room. “You are what makes AFSCME work every day. We are all one. This team is going to move forward together.”

“We’ve never had greater challenges and we’ve never had greater opportunities,” he said. State Legislatures around the nation and lawsuits are chipping away at collective bargaining.

“The one thing we can do together as a union, as a family, through relationships, is exactly what our predecessors did: Organize,” Westmoreland said. “The benefit of having a union is the ability to bring democracy into the workplace. Without it, you don’t have it. Without democracy, this state will surely fall and look like Wisconsin or Iowa.”

The conference participants got quick updates on the latest news.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Some members of the state Legislature are trying to pack bills with unrelated anti-worker measures that would pick away at collective bargaining rights, Council 5 legislative director Julie Bleyhl said.

Republicans want to cut taxes even more for the rich and corporations.

Republican leadership is refusing to move the Omnibus Pension Bill out of committee, even though the bipartisan measure unanimously passed both the Senate (by a 66-0 vote) and the Pensions Commission.

GOP Rep. Tim O’Driscoll has refused to bring the bill up for a vote in his committee for two months - even though he wrote the bill, and already voted to approve it himself as part of the Pensions Commission. He is indicating there may be small amendments – though to Council 5’s knowledge, no one is asking for any.

A GOP-proposed constitutional amendment would permanently fund transportation out of the General Fund. We need a long-term funding solution with NEW revenue for transit and transportation, not something that takes funding away from education, state agencies and other services every year.

GOP Rep. Marion O’Neill and Sen. Michelle Benson are pushing a measure that would pull health insurance benefits out of public worker contracts and require separate legislative approval - even though those benefits are negotiated.

Another poison pill amendment would tie state employee Cost of Living Adjustments to performance.

Republicans keep packing budget bills with more and more unrelated anti-worker policy measures, even though Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a letter to the House and Senate leaders, asking for clean bills and saying he won’t sign these bad bills.

POLITICAL UPDATE

Tim Pawlenty is running for governor again, and Council 5 political director Jon Grebner asked members if they remember what life was like in Minnesota under him. Pawlenty’s administration record?

  • Massive cuts to education.
  • A $6.2 billion deficit.
  • Cuts to unemployment insurance during the worst recession since 1982.
  • “Borrowing” $2 billion from schools.
  • City halls in Greater Minnesota only able to open three to four days a week.
  • School districts that couldn’t afford to bus kids, had to close down for multiple days, and couldn’t afford health insurance for teachers.

The conservative Minnesota Action Network – founded by former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman - is pledging millions. The money flowing into the race from Pawlenty’s rich backers is already driving up TV ad prices, Grebner said. Backers are shamefully attacking DFL gubernatorial candidate Tim Walz, the highest-ranking enlisted service member to ever serve in Congress – on veterans’ issues.

Grebner urged members to stay active politically to preserve our freedom to come home safely from work, to see a doctor when a child is sick, to take a vacation day without worry, and to retire with dignity.

The newly elected SEPC chair officers are:

  • President : John C. Hillyard, L 600
  • Vice President: Mike Lindholt, L221
  • Secretary: Julianna Lindsey, L 4001
  • Treasurer: Della Hulter, L735
  • Trustee: Mark Pozanc Jr., L 868