David's Blog

Monday, October 23, 2006

Help Hold AFSCME Accountable

Habit is oftentimes stronger than reason. Apparently, such is the case with the local leadership of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), who represent the majority of city of Duluth workers.

Months ago, the mayor and the city council appealed to AFSCME’s leadership to transcend old stereotypes and break from their traditional role of holding on to employee benefits with a white-knuckled death grip. The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce also encouraged AFSCME’s leadership to take an educated risk and join in the effort to resolve the city’s unfunded retiree healthcare liability.

Our appeal apparently went unnoticed or was disregarded by the city’s largest bargaining group.

Shortly thereafter, union leaders representing AFSCME informed the mayor of their contract demand: an almost 30 percent pay increase for their members over the next three years.

A 30 percent increase does not exhibit a union leadership that is in touch with reality. It represents a tired, old-school approach to an atypical, unprecedented challenge: the potential bankruptcy of Duluth. Not surprisingly, negotiations between the union officials and the city’s administration have reached an impasse.

Thankfully, Mayor Bergson sees the union demand for what it is: unrealistic and unwelcome. Duluthians are slowly coming to realize that AFSCME — the city’s largest bargaining group — is also becoming the city’s largest liability.

More specifically, Duluthians are awakening to the realization that AFSCME’s union leadership is increasingly a cause for concern for every city taxpayer. Duluthians are coming to understand how AFSCME’s leadership has its hands in our collective pocketbooks, and they want to dig deeper. If you own a home in Duluth, AFSCME’s leadership would like more of your money so they can continue to enjoy their excessively attractive healthcare benefits. Beware, the tax man or woman cometh … and he or she is probably an AFSCME union official. Katie, bar the door.

If you own a home in Duluth, your property taxes go to pay for the healthcare benefits of current and retired city employees. Notice, I didn’t say “a part” of your property taxes; I said “all” of your property taxes. What will become of the 70-year-old widow who is struggling to remain in her modest house on Dodge Street? How can she meet her increasing expenses while her property taxes rise? Should she pay more taxes so city employees and city retirees can continue to enjoy a healthcare benefit package that far exceeds what the city can afford and far exceeds what non-city employees have access to?

Increasingly, Duluthians are balking at this injustice.

For too long, the city’s administration and the union’s leadership kept the ominous and compounding cost of city employee healthcare benefits to themselves. Now the brutal, unattractive truth is out. Minnesota State Auditor Pat Anderson helped us understand the situation. Members of the Post Employment Healthcare Benefits Task Force informed us of this threatening expense.

Simply stated, union concessions are needed if we are to resolve the city’s unfunded retiree health care benefit challenge. Tax paying Duluthians have unknowingly funded the excessiveness of AFSCME’s union leadership for too long. Now that the painful secret is out, it is time for taxpayers to make their collective voice heard.

Mayor Bergson is doing his best to wrestle the necessary concessions from AFSCME’s leadership. Yet, AFSCME is the largest of the city’s five bargaining units. They are the bully on the block. And they have been taking our lunch money for too long.

Remember, bullies will continue to bully only if we remain passive. Please join me in letting the mayor know you support his efforts to resist the union’s demands. Let him know you applaud his concurrent efforts to resolve the city’s unfunded liability. You can contact the mayor at hbergson@ci.duluth.mn.us.

Please also let Duluth city councilors know how you feel about this issue. They can be reached at council@ci.duluth.mn.us.

AFSCME’s leadership is not shy about letting the mayor know how they feel. We should not be shy of doing the same.

posted by David Ross at

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