Union Advantage: The Good Life

Pam LeMay Office and administrative specialist principal, Department of Human Services President of AFSCME Local 2181
Pam LeMay Office and administrative specialist principal, Department of Human Services President of AFSCME Local 2181

“I’m retiring after 43 years with the state, 28 years involved with my Local. I am privileged because of the union. I have this beautiful thing of retiring at 60 because I have a good retirement package.

The time has gone by so fast.

In 1973, the state came out to do civil service tests in schools. If you could type 30 words a minute with five errors or less, you got to be in the on-the-job program. I’d go to school for four hours, then work for the state from noon to 4:30 with the Department of Revenue.

The night I graduated from high school, my boss asked if I could start full time on Monday. At the time, I thought, that sounds pretty good, I don’t have anything else to do.

I worked for the Department of Revenue, filing and talking to people on the phone, then moved to collections. Then I transferred, just moved up one floor to what was called the Department of Public Welfare (now DHS).

I work there in the budget analysis division now, the same position I’ve done for 20 years. I order supplies, make sure the office runs smoothly, serve as the technical support liaison.

My job and the union just made my life great. I’m going to have a good life in retirement, too.

I had the nicer things in life because of the union. I’ve got a house. We had a trailer that was parked on Lake Francis down south. We went down there every weekend. We always had a boat. Not only that, but my husband was a public employee. He worked for the Saint Paul water department for over 30 years. So we were lucky enough to both have our pensions. He’s been retired for 13 years now.

The union made my life a lot easier. They gave me the pay equity, an increase, they always protected my rights. The union was always there to make sure I had a retirement, I had benefits, I got sick leave when I needed it for my family. When I had knee replacement, I didn’t have to worry about it, I knew my job was going to be there when I got back. I have tons of vacation. I always had holidays I could spend with my family. If I had to work overtime, I was able to get time-and-a-half. I could always count on that check being there every two weeks. A lot of folks don’t have that. A lot of people take that for granted here at the State.

AFSCME was voted in in 1981. From that point on I held every office except for secretary and treasurer, and sometimes when we didn’t have a treasurer, I’d do the treasury.

We voted AFSCME in, and six months later, we went out on strike. Our biggest thing was pay equity for women. AFSCME was already in the forefront. Me and another gal I worked with, we went up to the Capitol, we sat on the Capitol steps with our picket signs. The jump in pay we made was over $3 an hour for women. It was the biggest jump we had ever seen.

That’s where the bug got me: It was going and fighting for people’s rights. I’ve always been one to either look out for or help the underdog. I wanted to make sure that whatever contract language we had would be upheld and protected.

My dad, he was a union man. He worked on machines making boxes for Dayton’s and Fanny Farmer. He was a union steward. I remember when I was a kid he would come in and be talking about that, that he had to go into the boss’s office. He was always in there fighting for the men on his shift. That was the mentality in my mind, that’s what you have to do on the job.

As president of the local, I’m pretty proud of the work I’ve done for everybody, my folks  ̶  the 350 members in my local. I was very proud and privileged to represent them and make sure that contractually their rights were always protected.

I’m going to miss that, the conventions and the fighting for everybody’s rights, the family part of being part of the union.

For the past 5 years, I’m watching what lawmakers are doing with Social Security, what they’re doing with my pension. I’m so worried about that. What we’ve sacrificed for all this time, now they want to take it away in one fell swoop. They say because other people in Minnesota don’t have it, we’re not supposed to have it either. Don’t bring us down to where they are, bring them up! Let everybody have the kind of retirement package that lasts you until the day you die.

It makes me angry. I will be involved with Local 5, AFSCME Retirees United.

I’ve always been proud to say I’ve been a state worker. I work for the people of Minnesota, and it’s a great place to work. It’s not just me as an office worker, it’s the people in the parks, how well our streets are taken care of, all they do to take care of the elderly. I’ve seen over the years how all of us public workers do such a wonderful job, and that’s why it’s such a great place to live.

I’ve been all over the United States, and I haven’t found one place I’d like to live more than here in Minnesota. Even after I retire, I don’t want to be a snowbird, I don’t want to live anywhere else.”