President's Corner: July
As millions of Americans prepare to celebrate the July Fourth holiday weekend, this will also be a relaxing weekend for MAPE members, unlike our last holiday weekend when thousands of us received potential layoff notices from the State.
Fortunately, Legislators agreed to a state budget on June 30, the last possible day to do so. If lawmakers had failed to finish the budget by midnight, some government services would have come to a halt and members laid off, through no fault of our own. The fact that the Legislature abdicated its responsibilities and had to go into special session to pass a budget is an insult to MAPE members and other dedicated public servants who worked nonstop over the last 16-months.
The lack of a budget agreement also affected 2021-2023 contract negotiations and Push Week, the last week of negotiations where we discuss wages and healthcare proposals with the employer, now begins on July 19. This biennial round of contract bargaining has proven to be a difficult one with Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB). Our team came to the bargaining table with proposals to enable Minnesotans to work and live better. MMB has been intent on bringing anti-labor proposals to the table.
The pandemic and a change in leadership at MAPE should have afforded us the opportunity to rethink what contract bargaining looks like. Historically, one team brings proposals they know the other side may not agree to and then the serious negotiations begin. Though I do not believe Gov. Walz supports gutting union seniority or naming holidays after the dates, his MMB team claims these proposals are priorities for them. At this point, MMB has not agreed to any of our proposals. We continue to fight for Temporary Unclassified employees, telework and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
The pandemic has also given us a new opportunity to reimagine what a new “normal” could look like. Never as a society did we think we could do health care for millions remotely. I was amazed how easy it was for my son to see his pediatrician for a virtual visit and receive the same excellent care. I have spoken with friends whose doctors have told them that this is the way of most medical visits in the future.
With millions of employees working remotely nationwide, the job landscape has changed dramatically. Corporations are giving up office space in downtown Minneapolis because they know telework makes good business sense and is not fading away. Studies have found workers are more productive working from home and their home offices save companies money on overhead. The less congested roadways are also good for the environment.
State negotiators must recognize what other employers are realizing: telework is here to stay. The ability to telework has become very important to MAPE’s professional members. We have kept State government running remotely throughout the pandemic. We continued to provide millions of Minnesotans with the State services they needed. Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans received timely unemployment insurance checks through the Department of Employment and Economic Policy (DEED). This DEED website was one of the few, if not the only, unemployment insurance websites in the nation that was able to handle the complex programing and not crash.
Employees at the Department of Revenue were able to work remotely as they handled financial programs and data carrying great security risks. Behavioral health analysts in the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities met with individuals and groups virtually. Many of the employees in DOC’s central office were able to do their work remotely. The pandemic showed DOC leadership that many central office staff were able to complete their job functions remotely and this also helped leaders save the agency money during a budget crisis and allow for permanent telework.
Many thanks must go to all of our hardworking MNIT members who outfitted all of our office computers, set up systems, answered help calls and so much more which enabled MAPE members and other State employees to telework. You have our continued gratitude, MNIT!
Working virtually has made life easier for our union, too. We have held online meetings and other meetings that have been hybrid with members in the office and others on Zoom. More than 1,000 members from across the state were able to participate in a virtual contract action with the governor back in March. Telework has opened up a myriad of events and opportunities which allow us to stay connected with members hundreds of miles apart across the state.
We are in the last couple of weeks of contract negotiations as we prepare to move into Push Week beginning July 19. Minnesota works because we do! There will be a Rally for Our Contract on Wed., July 21, at 5 p.m. in St. Paul. We look forward to gathering with our union brothers and sisters in person to rally support for the contract we deserve. Wear your MAPE gear and a mask to show your support! Sign up here.
As Robert Frost wrote, “Freedom lies in being bold.” Be bold this holiday weekend. Focus on unity and the things that bring us together rather than the things that divide us. The fourth of July traditionally brings families and communities together and it should bring our country together as well. We know there are many inequities. After a turbulent year, it is easy for us to say everything is better now, but we know that is not the case. Too many inequities exist. We still have to fight for change and progress, both in our communities and our union. We do this by fighting together for our contract, for reform and for not settling for where we are now.
We are always stronger together.
Have a relaxing and safe holiday weekend.