North St. Paul Organizes for Dignity and Respect

1-4-2018
Workers from the City of North St. Paul are in negotiations after forming their own union with AFSCME. (Front row, left to right) Barb Huelsman, Cynthia Govan and Karin Derauf. (Back row, left to right) Martin Waldera, Terri Slama, Dominic Jara and Lauren Pack.
Workers from the City of North St. Paul are in negotiations after forming their own union with AFSCME. (Front row, left to right) Barb Huelsman, Cynthia Govan and Karin Derauf. (Back row, left to right) Martin Waldera, Terri Slama, Dominic Jara and Lauren Pack.

Workers for the city of North St. Paul now have their own union, thanks to a strong and unified campaign.

“Having a seat at the table is what’s most important, being able to voice our opinions, feeling like our opinion does matter,” says North St. Paul fire inspector Dan Krier.

“I feel like the playing field got a little more level,” says Karin Derauf, an administrative assistant in community development.

The new AFSCME group includes workers in departments across the city such as utility billing, police record and file clerks, community service officers, and others. It’s divided into two units: the essential unit for fire and code enforcement; and the non-essential unit, which voted unanimously to join AFSCME Council 5.

“What sparked it was we started seeing some practices from management that were pretty questionable,” Krier says. “We were the last group to not have collective bargaining protection. We were wanting those type of fair practices for us as well.”

Issues included workers being promised raises they didn’t get; the elimination of pay ranges; disparities between benefits for part-timers; employees held in temporary-status limbo; and the city filling vacant positions by offering lesser titles and lower pay while requiring the same workload.

“I’ve had three co-workers leave that I have taken on work from, including the finance director, who makes it four,” says utility billing coordinator Barb Huelsman. “I got a quarter an hour raise.

Like Huelsman, who’s been at North St. Paul more than three decades, many of the workers are experienced veterans at their jobs with years of proud service to the city.

They wanted to make life better for fellow workers, residents and the city itself; and to ensure workers could keep providing exemplary public service.

“My motivation was that things were going bad, and I wanted to protect my fellow employees,” Huelsman says. “That’s what pushed me to start this thing. Now it’s like my eyes are open. I’m starting to see the inequity of how we’ve been treated.

“We should be a place where people want to go to work,” she adds. “We are the City of North St. Paul. We should be treated with respect and be treated fairly.”

Workers stayed strong in their desire to form a union, even as the city manager dragged the process out by months by trying to exclude several workers. Halfway through their drive, when they learned the city manager was leaving, they decided to keep moving forward anyway. They wanted to ensure they’d have a voice and collective power ˗ no matter who was running the city.

“We just know we’re stronger as 18 people than as one person,” Krier says.

Looking ahead, city workers hope to win salary ranges so there’s transparency in pay and a reward for gaining experience and skills; more competitive wages to attract strong candidates; additional training so employees can move up the ladder; more concise and accurate job descriptions; and to secure their health and retirement benefits.

“I would like to see the pay ratio versus the job duties match, the workload ratio to pay ratio match,” Derauf says. “You can’t have one person or two people doing everything for a whole department.”

“I’ll feel safer as an aging employee that they won’t start asking me when I’m going to retire,” Huelsman says. “This has happened to people in the past. It gives me confidence that I can be here until I retire.”