When the COVID-19 pandemic reached our state and began to significantly affect our members in March of 2020, I personally notified all Local 49 employers that this Local would commit to taking on the challenges of the pandemic in a collaborative spirit. And we stayed true to our word. As many of you know we reached an agreement with some employers that had to make difficult decisions to cut back on hours, reconfigure schedules, impose furloughs, and even institute layoffs in some cases. But at the same time, we were also very clear that the terms and conditions of our labor agreements remained in full effect unless modified through good-faith bargaining.
Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone shared our commitment to collaboration. In late April 2020, Area Business Agent Ron Boesel learned from members employed in the public works division of Hennepin County that their manager had announced major changes in employee work schedules without providing the 7-day advance notice required by the Local 49 contract and without allowing employees to bid on work assignments by seniority. And if that wasn’t enough, Boesel also learned that management had falsely informed the employees that he had approved management’s actions.
Needless to say, those members were extremely upset, not only to learn of the schedule change that was implemented in apparent violation of their contract, but because they were told that the Local had knowingly allowed it.
That had never happened, of course, and the Local demanded immediate action by the County to remedy the situation and set the record straight. After several weeks went by with no meaningful action or response by Hennepin County, I decided that legal action was necessary, and I authorized the Local’s attorneys to file the first-ever unfair labor practice charges with Minnesota’s newly created Public Employment Relations Board.
In response to our unfair labor practice charge, Hennepin County continued to deny that it had done anything wrong—even while admitting that employees did not receive 7-days’ notice of the shift change and that employees were told that the Local had approved it. And so, the fight continued through the summer and into the fall of 2020.
Eventually, however, after several months of litigation, Hennepin County agreed to set the record straight by notifying its public works employees, in writing, that Business Agent Ron Boesel did not authorize the shift change in April 2020 as employees had previously been informed. Additionally, the County agreed to pay backpay to all employees who lost wages as a result of the manner in which the shift change was implemented.
As your Business Manager, I felt this story was important to tell, not only because I see it as an important victory for our members and a notable legal case, but because the integrity of this Local was called into question. Since my election, I have emphasized my commitment to transparency, and I will not tolerate false accusations of back-room dealing between union agents and management to violate the terms of our contracts. With the case of Hennepin County in particular, I continue to believe that management’s false statements about Ron Boesel were a deliberate attempt to sow distrust between the Local and its members.
This victory was also made possible by the fact that Local 49 now has the resources necessary to take on these fights. The Local 49 executive board was briefed on this situation, and all of us very clearly agreed that whatever the cost, our name was worth defending. Because of the boards sound financial management, we had the resources to carry this fight out as long as it took.
Our sole purpose is to advance your rights in the workplace. The contracts we have were not given to us, they were achieved through the hard work and sacrifice of generations of Local 49 members. We will not tolerate anyone tarnishing the reputation of this great union by lying about us. We will continue to vigorously defend our agreements, and the reputation this organization has earned as one that is tough, but fair.
Local 49 Business Manager