AFSCME to City of Duluth: ‘Respect Public Workers,’ Restore 2 Maintenance Positions

DULUTH, Minn. — The city of Duluth’s largest union – AFSCME Council 5 — is calling on Mayor Emily Larson’s administration to reverse its decision to cut two maintenance worker positions.  And the union is asking for residents of Duluth for support because it says the city is not respecting public workers and access to critical services that the community needs, as FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.

“In the end, we were very pleased there were no layoffs,” said Noah Schuchman, the city’s chief administrative officer. “We did reallocate some positions — ending up having to move people around.”

That quote was part of an interview on Monday with FOX 21 where Schuchman addressed the recent cuts.  The affected employees were offered — and they accepted — other positions within the city at salaries a city spokesperson called “comparable.”

But on Thursday, AFSCME released a statement to FOX 21 calling on the city to put the employees back in their original positions with their original pay.

“Local government employees deliver critical public services that benefit everybody in our communities. We are extremely concerned that administration at the City of Duluth is attempting to justify laying off two maintenance positions — stripping seniority and cutting pay by $1700 per year per employee — as a way to alleviate property taxes and solve issues in the 2020 budget while at the same time adding administrative positions and hiring seasonal positions,” AFSCME said in the statement.

At-Large Councilor Derek Medved, who was not on the council when the current budget was passed, said pay and seniority are important to him.

“As a council member, I do stand behind AFSCME and the union workers and look forward to working with them, and also the administration. When I pinpoint that word communication, I hope the communication continues between the two. But as a council member, I’m ready to assist in any way I can,” Medved said.

Councilor Arik Forsman was on the council for the budget approval but says:

“I was not aware until recently that two maintenance worker positions eliminated in the 2020 budget would affect two current city employees. I encourage the city administration to continue working with AFSCME Council 5 to reach a positive outcome and am supportive of efforts to ensure that the two affected workers are made whole,” Forsman said in a statement. “The men and women who plow our streets, maintain our parks, and repair our infrastructure are the heart and soul of our city.”

Councilor Renee Van Nett released the following statement to FOX 21:

“As a Laborer, I don’t agree with any layoffs. While I’m concerned about people’s jobs and families, I need to let the organization do their work. I am almost certain this will be brought up at the next Council meeting. I will see where it goes from there and act accordingly. I will be in support of this being resolved as soon as it’s able,” Van Nett said.

While Mayor Emily Larson and Schuchman did not have a comment for this story Thursday, Schuchman did say Monday that the cuts were not an easy decision but one that was necessary to continue to manage a budget to minimize property tax impact on residents and property owners.

“Any time you could impact city operations or peoples jobs, it’s something we work very hard to make sure doesn’t happen, and when it does, we work hard to do it in a thoughtful way that minimizes the impact to the greatest possible extent,” Schuchman said.

One of the affected workers did not want to talk on camera for the story Thursday fearing it would affect his employment. But he did tell FOX 21 while he’s thankful to land another job with the city, he’s upset about losing his seniority and position as maintenance worker.  And he said every dollar lost matters to his family.

The next city council meeting is March 23 where the conversation could publicly continue.

Below is the full AFSCME press release sent to FOX 21 on Thursday:

AFSCME Council 5 calls on the City of Duluth to respect our contracts, public employees

“Local government employees deliver critical public services that benefit everybody in our communities. We are extremely concerned that administration at the City of Duluth is attempting to justify laying off two maintenance positions — stripping seniority and cutting pay by $1700 per year per employee — as a way to alleviate property taxes and solve issues in the 2020 budget while at the same time adding administrative positions and hiring seasonal positions.

Our members make Duluth work. They plow our streets, fix our city vehicles, maintain our beautiful parks, fix broken water and gas mains, repair our streets and sidewalks, and do so much more. Duluth desperately needs investment in front line staff to ensure all residents of Duluth and the surrounding area can access the services they deserve, expect, and demand.

We have had fruitful conversations with City Councilors and tried to communicate our concerns with City Administration. We encourage residents of Duluth to stand up and fight alongside AFSCME City of Duluth workers, calling for the City to respect public workers and access to critical services that we all need. We ask that administration continue to meet with our local union members and staff, restore our members to their previous positions under the collective bargaining agreement, and call on residents to stand with us as we fight for the essential services to make Duluth work for everyone.

We have and always will continue to fight for excellence in services to the public, dignity in the workplace, and opportunity and prosperity for all workers.”

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