Minneapolis City Council 2009 AFSCME Council 5, AFL-CIO
Why are you seeking AFSCME endorsement? Have you received it in the past?
I am seeking your endorsement because I want to be able to show my commitment to labor issues, because I would be supportive of labor issues and city employees when in office, and because I would like to earn the votes of those who share my pro-labor principles. I have not received your endorsement in the past because my only previous campaign started too late in the year to seek your endorsement.
How will you win this election? Specifically, how many votes will you need to win? What is your fundraising goal? What differentiates you from the other candidates running for city council?
I plan to run a grass-roots, all-volunteer campaign. On that basis, I can win with a budget of $15,000 to $20,000. I will need 2200 to 2500 votes to win in my ward. I believe I can win, based partly on the name recognition and credibility I have gained from my activism and organizing around issues important to the voters. In the previous election cycle, I won over 30% of the votes despite starting my campaign less than four months before the election. Encouraging early support and fund-raising results put this campaign on-track to win.
I differ from the other candidates in making public control over government a central theme of my campaign. We need real public input and consultation at an early stage in decision-making, not the sham public input process which currently frustrates real community involvement. I am also emphasizing basic human needs versus stadium subsidies and fancy developments. We must be as frugal as necessary with other spending until all residents have access to the basic rights of education, housing, food and healthcare.
For AFSCME and its members, the most critical difference is my history of labor organizing and solidarity. I have lost several jobs in retaliation against my activities. Working in an asbestos factory after high school convinced me that the labor struggle must be ongoing. In 1972, I helped lead a union organizing drive at a local home for developmentally disabled children, after several co-workers were fired for efforts to improve conditions for the children. In 1974 I was fired from Abbott Hospital along with several co-workers as a result of our efforts to reform and democratize the union so it could more effectively represent the workers against the hospital management. In 1982, while working as an engineer for American Hoist & Derrick in Duluth, I helped lead a union organizing drive for engineers, draftsmen, and clerical workers. I have since been self-employed, but I have continued my labor solidarity. I have picketed with P9 in Austin, with HERE at the downtown hotels, and with AFSCME during the last U of M strike. To give a fuller indication of my views, I have included (at the end of this questionnaire) a copy of the press release that I wrote for the MN Green Party in support of the AFSCME strike at the University of MN.
Please ask yourselves, have the other candidates for this office “walked the walk”? Or have they only given lip service to labor issues? I have been an activist in the labor movement, and I will bring that experience and understanding to the Minneapolis City Council.
What is your position on the contracting out or privatization of public services? Under what circumstances would you support the privatization, contracting out of services currently provided by the city or the long term leasing of city assets? What are you saying about privatization in your campaign to Minneapolis voters, the media and other groups making endorsements in this race?
I oppose privatizing public services. The city currently has many contracts with local businesses and non-profits for specific services and products. These are essential, but core city services must remain public in order to maintain public control. Minneapolis must serve the public; privatizing services to reduce wages or to bust unions is contrary to the public interest. City assets – land, buildings, parking ramps, parks, etc. – are precious and represent the investments and sacrifices of our predecessors. They must not be given away or signed over to private interests with long term leases.
I was vocal in my opposition to privatization in my previous campaign for City Council. That will once again be a consistent message.
How would you describe your wage philosophy related to city workers? Do you support wage caps/freezes?
The city has a budget crisis, but I believe we should do as much as possible to solve it by cutting back on subsidies and favors to large businesses and developers. If personnel costs must also be reduced, it should be done by freezing or cutting the pay of those at the top. I support a compression of the wage structure: larger raises for those in the lowest-paid jobs, and steady or reduced pay for the most highly paid employees (mostly appointed, non-union positions). The City Council should cut its own pay before freezing the pay of those who make less than the Council members.
A tension exists between the view that public safety is a police function and a broader view that includes parks, libraries, and recreation centers, as well as animal control and code enforcement. Which better characterizes your view of public safety and why?
I believe strongly that a progressive long-term approach to public safety puts a high priority on youth programs, better jobs and housing, schools, parks, libraries, and other proven ways to reduce crime. Most research supports that view.
In a time of budget crisis, we can not and should not keep increasing the size and cost of our Police Department. We need better oversight and civilian control over the Police Department so that it serves and respects all of us.
In 2003, the state made steep cuts to local government aid, how have you advocated restoring the lost revenue and preserving the city’s quality of life? How will you work with our union to lobby at the capitol for revenue restoration and fully funded public services?
I have always advocated for a more progressive tax system. We are the wealthiest nation in the world, and our national wealth has grown each year (until the most recent crisis). It is outrageous that our political conversation for the past several decades has centered around how and where to cut government services to those most in need, and cutting vital services for all of us – schools, parks, libraries, fixing potholes, etc. The money is still out there, but the public has lost out because of large tax cuts and loopholes for the wealthiest individuals and corporations. The City Council, through its legislative agenda, must work together with its employees and their unions to overturn tax cuts for the rich so that all of us can benefit from better government services.
The 2006 Minneapolis Employee Survey showed low satisfaction with the city council. How will you use the city’s labor/management process to better your relationship with city staff?
While preserving wages and benefits is important, job satisfaction has more to do with fair and respectful treatment by management and supervisors. The bargaining process is important, but City Council can do far more to improve satisfaction. The strong council / weak mayor system that we have in Minneapolis gives the Council a unique opportunity and responsibility, because the Council directly oversees and manages the work of most city departments. I will advocate for progressive management strategies that will give workers greater respect and greater control over their work life.
Do you think the next budget will require additional property tax revenue to maintain Minneapolis’s quality public services? Please explain why or why not.
We cannot continue to raise property taxes at a rate higher than inflation. Property taxes tend to be regressive and we have already placed too great a burden on the poor and middle class and fixed-income retirees.
Unfortunately, the state puts strict limits on how cities can raise revenue. Part of the bargain is that the state returns some of its revenue as Local Government Aid, so that some of the city’s revenue comes from more progressive taxation such as the state income tax. That bargain has been broken by the state as it slashes taxes on the wealthy and cuts Local Government Aid. The city must advocate at the Legislature for a return to a more progressive revenue structure. Until that is accomplished, the city must survive on its current property tax income, rather than push the burden down the line to its residents.
Some have suggested that the city’s budget constraints should result in a conversation about discontinuing some services currently provided by the city. Do you agree with this sentiment? If so, what services currently provided by the city would you advocate terminating?
I don’t know of any services that I would recommend eliminating. I believe we could reduce spending by CPED. The Police Department is by far the largest portion of the discretionary budget. We must look at ways to improve its efficiency and quality of service, rather than enlarging its budget.
The reduction of the City’s workforce and additional job responsibilities for current employees has led to a stressful environment for city employees, managers, elected officials and the public. How would you set priorities for employees and the public to alleviate some of the additional stress? How would you create a work environment that is healthy and respectful?
See the answer above for my views on more progressive and respectful management. I would like to work together with the city employees’ unions to improve working conditions. I have seen from my own union organizing efforts that the greatest motivation for union organizing is disrespect, petty work rules, and poor working conditions. Unions must remain focused on those priorities once they have gained recognition. I will do all I can to support that. Improved working conditions can make an enormous difference to the worker, often without significantly increasing the cost to the city.
Some public officials build political capital by attacking public employees and public services. If elected, how will you use your capital to promote public services and the employees who provide them?
I have never and will never attack public employees for political gain. When there are problems, the responsibility lies with leadership and with the powerful outside forces which wield too much power in a government which is supposed to represent all the people. I will not scapegoat city workers.
What process would you use to encourage and facilitate communication between yourself and AFSCME?
I have made it a central point of my campaign to reach out and seek out the experience, ideas, and expertise of the general public, and involve them in the decisions that directly affect their lives. I would go to AFSCME, and most importantly its members and those who work for the city, for input on issues that affect city workers.
As part of the labor community, AFSCME is concerned about issues that affect all workers. Do you support card-check and employer neutrality in union organizing, living wage jobs, prevailing wages in construction, and project labor agreements?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I have helped lead two union organizing drives, and I know first-hand, from being fired, how unfair and repressive the current climate is for labor. I have personally experienced the low wages, unsafe working conditions, and oppressive management in non-union jobs. Until we have better federal labor laws, the city should do what it can to improve the working conditions for all city residents, and to ensure better treatment for its own workers and the employees of its contractors.
Would you accept campaign contributions from AFSCME political committees?
No, I am seeking Green Party endorsement, and it would violate the rules and principles of the Green Party to receive money from any PACs, no matter how well-intentioned. I support that principle because of the freedom it brings from special interests such as large developers and anti-union corporations. I will be a reliable ally of rank and file labor, and contributions from individual AFSCME members would be greatly appreciated!
Below, a press release I wrote in support of AFSCME during their recent strike at the University of MN:
For Immediate Release Green Party of Minnesota
September 8, 2007 Dave Bicking, Spokesperson
GREEN PARTY SUPPORTS STRIKE BY U OF M WORKERS
The Green Party of Minnesota stands in solidarity with the striking AFSCME workers at the University of Minnesota. They deserve to achieve their goal: a fair wage that, at the very least, keeps up with the cost of living.
The U of M reflects the conditions in our larger society – an obscene, and growing, disparity in wealth and incomes. While University austerity programs have led to a decrease in the real wages of its lowest-paid workers, money has been found for large increases in the salaries of the President and top administrators. President Bruininks is paid over $400,000 and the football coach receives over $1 million per year. The Green Party is united in its stand for economic justice, and we recognize that labor solidarity is a critical part of that struggle.
The University is a public institution and its Board of Regents must be held accountable to the public. We believe that the public supports fair wages. Large and growing support for the strike is an indication of public opinion. For the benefit of students, faculty, and AFSCME workers, we call upon the Board of Regents to end the strike immediately by granting the workers’ demands.
We encourage our Green Party members to participate in strike support activities at University campuses throughout the state. The University is the largest employer in the state and the success of this strike is important to us all. We congratulate the members of AFSCME for taking the risks and bearing the sacrifices to stand up not only for themselves, but for all workers.