Ramsey County Locals Approve Strong Contracts

Ramsey County workers celebrate the overwhelming vote to approve their contracts. (Front row, from left to right): Griffin Hughes, Local 8; Gina Soggiorno, Local 1076 secretary; Margaret Berger, Local 151 Executive Board; and Sara Nott, Local 151 treasurer. (Back row, left to right): AFSCME field representative Suzanne Kocurek; Mike Schaeppi, Local 1935 vice president; Nambago Kalema, Local 707 vice president; Eric Praml, Local 707 president; Linda Oeltjenbruns, Local 151 vice president, negotiating team co-chair; Dawn Flores, Local 151 president; Susan Rowan, Local 8 steward; Joan Brown, Local 8 steward; and AFSCME field representative Jeff Dains.
Ramsey County workers celebrate the overwhelming vote to approve their contracts. (Front row, from left to right): Griffin Hughes, Local 8; Gina Soggiorno, Local 1076 secretary; Margaret Berger, Local 151 Executive Board; and Sara Nott, Local 151 treasurer. (Back row, left to right): AFSCME field representative Suzanne Kocurek; Mike Schaeppi, Local 1935 vice president; Nambago Kalema, Local 707 vice president; Eric Praml, Local 707 president; Linda Oeltjenbruns, Local 151 vice president, negotiating team co-chair; Dawn Flores, Local 151 president; Susan Rowan, Local 8 steward; Joan Brown, Local 8 steward; and AFSCME field representative Jeff Dains.

Five locals in Ramsey County turned out in strong numbers this week to overwhelmingly approve their new contracts Wednesday night.

The five locals - who bargain together - ratified a total of nine contracts, including: Local 8 general unit, professional unit and public health; Local 151 general unit, LPNs and Workforce Solutions; Local 707, Lake Owasso Residence; Local 1076, Ramsey County Care Center; and Local 1935 parks and recreation. The contracts cover 2,180 workers.

The three-year contracts – considered the best in years – include 2.5 percent raises each year; paid parental leave; increased tuition reimbursement; and largely hold the line on health care costs.

“It’s awesome!” says Local 8 steward Susan Rowan. “It’s a good contract. It’s nice to see that many voters come out.”

“I was excited,” says Peggy Bloomstrand, a Local 151 chief steward and Executive Board member. “It reinforces my decision to want to work for Ramsey County and continue to make a difference. When we get raises, it makes us feel valuable.”

Child protection workers like her hope the raise will make Ramsey County more competitive with other counties and make it easier to retain workers: Turnover has been high as rising caseloads have deluged social workers.

AFSCME Council 5 members credit the impressive turnout and strong contract with unity and planning that started months ago.

All the Ramsey County locals bargain together (except for county attorneys and public defenders). They bring up shared issues and subjects that are specific to a local, and they support each other during negotiations.

Susan Rowan (left) and Joan Brown, stewards with Local 8, share a light moment while counting contract ballots Wednesday night. Turnout was strong across Ramsey County.
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Local 8’s Susan Rowan says they met early on and surveyed what workers were most interested in, which reminded them it was contract time and got them fired up.

Local 707 had such strong interest in its election, 100 percent of workers became full AFSCME members so they could vote, engagement that continued into negotiations and the contract vote.

Local 151 has dramatically increased its outreach, member education and the number of events, which have included lunches with pizza, labor history talks and AFSCME legislative updates, and tailgating at St. Paul Saints games. The local also increased communication with members and updated them regularly on negotiations.

Margaret Berger, Sara Nott and Dawn Flores of Local 151 share a high five after they tally ballots and learn that their contracts passed by a wide margin Wednesday night. The three-year contracts include 2.5 percent raises each year; paid parental leave; and largely hold the line on health care costs.
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Last summer, the local designed and bought new T-shirts, which they give to full members, who are wearing them and hanging them over their office chairs. Membership has grown from 57 percent to 80 percent, says Local 151 president Dawn Flores.

“There’s a lot more visibility and awareness of our local,” says vice president Linda Oeltjenbruns (who is the negotiations team co-chair with Local 1935 president Jim Kurkowski). “We’ve become visible to our members but also more visible to management, and they’ve become more aware of the power we’ve got because we had to use it.

“People are interested,” Oeltjenbruns adds. “They want to take part. They understand how important it is. The outcome is the contract - we got a very good contract.”

One of the turning points for increasing worker power was an unexpected event: a power outage that shut down the county’s Government Center East. When workers from Locals 8 and 151 arrived to work, they were locked out. The county refused to pay workers and made them take vacation days.

So many workers showed up in AFSCME green at the next meeting, they overflowed the room, Flores recalls. And when workers learned they weren’t getting paid, they were so outraged, they walked single file down the stairs and marched three blocks to the courthouse chanting, “Pay us now, pay us now.”

Workers won new contract language to cover future emergencies like this.

“A lot of people have this conception that the union is this thing somewhere that does stuff, it’s the Executive Board,” Flores says. “We try to get the message out we’re all in this together.”

“We are all the union,” adds Local 151 Executive Board member Margaret Berger.

The Ramsey County locals won:

  • Raises of 2.5 percent a year for three years.
  • Three weeks of paid parental leave for birth and adoptive parents.
  • The contract holds the line on health insurance costs for single coverage the first two years, and only goes up $5 the third year. The employer’s share of family coverage remains at 75 percent all three years.
  • Tuition reimbursement goes up to $2,600 next year and $4,000 in 2019, with a shift to centralized funding to make it easier for workers to access.
  • Expanded sick leave that allows workers to use up to 160 hours of sick leave a calendar year (up from 40 hours) for an extended range of family members.
  • Safety leave for an employee experiencing sexual assault, domestic abuse or stalking, or to assist a family member with this issue.
  • Up to two paid days off a year if the county announces it’s closing a building or department due to extreme weather or temporary unplanned closures, except for 24/7 facilities.

Along with these overall wins for all five locals, the individual locals won additional gains:

  • Local 8 general won meet-and-confer language.
  • Local 8 and 151 general units’ labor management committees will meet about issues around telecommuting.
  • Local 151 general has agreements outside the contract to make filling vacancies an ongoing discussion at LMC and meet-and-confers; and labor relations will address overtime concerns with department directors.
  • Local 707 is getting more stewards; shorter probationary periods; and increased time required for job postings.
  • In Local 1076, workers who pick up a shift won’t be mandated to work the next shift, too.
  • In Local 1935, workers won clearer language for seasonal bidding assignments.