Good afternoon – As I write the last newsletter of the year, I have to say: this has been quite a year! We have had to pivot and shift, time and time again! When COVID-19 hit, we had no idea what to expect, except that everything we knew would change forever. I am proud of the work that we have done over the last year. Our members were hit the hardest and were expected to do more than ever! In case no one has told you that lately, you are amazing!
According to Minnesota law, hourly school employees are exempt from unemployment unless they are truly laid off from their job with no expectations of coming back to work (for things like budget cuts). The reason being is that you have reasonable assurance that you will have a job to come back to in the fall. This year was different in so many ways, so we sent out an email to all of our members asking who works over the summer and who doesn’t to get a better sense of who this impact. We also pushed the state because many of our members had no reasonable assurance to a job in the fall or have work over the summer months due to COVID-19. In the end, our members filled out the forms for unemployment and some were approved, and some were not, and some had to go through the process of an appeal. We were frustrated because unemployment kept turning our members down, even if they normally work summers and this year, they didn’t have any summer work due to COVID-19. So, we sprang into action. Our union strategized, organized, and mobilized our members to contact their legislators and get the word out about how unfair this law is to so many Minnesotans. We had a meeting with our Governor this summer, and after all that…our work paid off!
Our members received unemployment and many who faced appeals won those as well. We will continue to fight to never have to do this work again during a pandemic or any other time because all workers should qualify for unemployment if there is no work. We will continue to fight so our voices are heard!
Life During a Pandemic
During this pandemic we have learned to shift from in person negotiations to negotiations and meetings over zoom, and we have had our biggest turnout of union members for remote meetings over zoom. We will continue to meet in person when possible, and over zoom when necessary. We have also been having leadership meetings with our Stewards on a monthly basis, and right now we are having the discussions about your safety and the workload. We will be meeting later this fall with the Commissioner of Education to discuss the concerns that we have identified that affect our members.
Sometimes members have asked us: why do you get involved with politics? The answer is simple: if you are not at the table where the decisions are being made, you might be on the menu. As public employees who get paid because of tax dollars. We have to be involved in politics so that we are heard about our workplace issues and our voices around the changes that need to happen are a reality because we were at the table.
That is why we need to elect leaders who will protect your interests regarding your pay and benefits. Every election season we have a process in which members can participate in screenings of the candidates. We invite all elected officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties to attend. We do screenings for School Boards as well, to ensure that we have labor-friendly boards who will fight behind the scenes to protect our workers and ensure that you have a voice!
We recently had our October Leadership Assembly meeting, where our members called in support of SEIU-endorsed candidates from both parties to try to ensure the candidates we endorsed would win their seats. When all the votes were counted, SEIU-endorsed candidates across the state won because of the work that we did. If you want to get involved, we would love to have you!
We will be doing another Leadership Assembly in February, and we will email the information and post the date on our website. Additionally, keep an eye out for upcoming trainings. We have Steward, Bargaining and Boiler trainings set for the coming months.
We also won an arbitration in West Saint Paul District where the District tried to interpret our language the way they wanted to interpret it in a way that would help them. Our members received health insurance based on the hours that they worked and the district tried to say that it was only their bid package hours and that we had agreed to the change in negotiations and we disagreed and filed a grievance immediately…and WE WON!
Our members will receive back pay for the lost health insurance that they had to pay due to the District not including all hours worked! That is why it is so important to have a contract and know your contract, so that these kinds of things don’t happen! Without a contract you have a promise, with a contract you have legal language that cannot be changed unless we bargain over it! But our strength is in our numbers, so if you are not a member yet, go to our website www.seiu284.org, united we bargain, divided we beg.
Upcoming Member News
If you’re looking to invest in yourself over the winter, this is the year to do that. We have free college for you and your whole family! Yes, you read that correct, your whole family, check it out at http://freecollege.seiumb.com!
Also, we have the member of the year award coming soon. Go to our website and nominate one of your co-workers for their outstanding work in their union, their communities or in the school that they work at. We want to hear their stories and lift them up and recognize them. Let’s let them know how much we appreciate them.
As I bring this email to a close, I would like to give a moment of pause to the members that we lost this year:
Joyce Kopet – Shakopee 720
Linda Fogel – West St. Paul 197
Carrie Lamott – Glencoe 2859
Therese DesLauriers – Robbinsdale 281
Standly Anderson – Retiree
Mark Malecha – Lakeville 194
Elizabeth Weiler – Rosemount 196
Paul Bisek – New Prague 721
John Ganske – Rosemount 196
Arnold Eder – Eden Prairie 272
Walter Lyndsley – Retiree
As always, I wish you a joyful Thanksgiving Holiday, and stay safe.
SEIU Local 284 Executive Director