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AFSCME reports using thousands in taxpayer money to organize unions

By   /   January 8, 2014  /   No Comments

By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Opponents of an effort to unionize family child-care providers have long suspected — but could never prove — that some taxpayer money designated for training was instead used for union organizing.

There now appears to be a smoking gun that supports their allegation — mandated disclosure forms, uncovered by Watchdog Minnesota Bureau, were filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Two LM-2 annual financial reports filled out by AFSME Council 5 in 2011 and 2012 show $33,300 in taxpayer money from Ramsey County DHS  — Department of Community Human Services — were categorized as an “organizing reimbursement” and apparently spent on organizing for a controversial child-care providers’ union.

“It angers me that my tax money is going to do the one thing that is going to hurt me,” said Cyndi Cunningham, an opponent of a provider union who operates her own St. Paul child-care business.

”It’s not just Ramsey County’s money, it’s my tax money. I’m paying to have somebody organize against me.”

The payments listed in the LM-2 filings correspond with disbursements for training purposes by the Ramsey County Department of Community Human Services to AFSCME Council 5 and its affiliate, Child Care Providers Together.

AFSCME reported receiving from Ramsey County $19,885 in 2011 and $13,453 in 2012 for the purpose of organizing. Altogether, more than half of the $59,600 in Ramsey County taxpayer money received by the union and CCPT since 2010 has been spent on organizing, according to the LM-2 reports and county finance records.

Ramsey County lists the requirements expected of CCPT in a contract, including outreach for families on child-care programs, eligibility requirements, information on asthma and other health issues. County officials indicated they would ask CCPT why thousands of dollars in taxpayer money was reportedly used for organizing.

Ramsey County photo.

COUNTY COMMISSIONER WANTS ANSWERS FROM AFSCME:  Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt says union owes her an explanation after she fought to reinstate $50,000 in taxpayer funding for “training” and outreach. 

“We are unclear as to why the LM-2 findings would show anything different from what is specified in our contract and have not been consulted or involved in filling out those forms,” said Dave Haley, executive assistant in the Ramsey County Community Human Services Department.  “… Organizing is not one of the activities, nor is it expected to be.”

AFSCME spokesman Jennifer Munt declined to comment on the LM-2 reports or why county money designated for training and outreach purportedly went for labor organizing.

In November, Watchdog Minnesota Bureau reported that questions over the use of Ramsey County funding held up renewal of a two-year $50,000 contract with CCPT in the Ramsey County 2014-15 budget. At the time, Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, a key county board member who supported reinstating the union funding, asked to be informed of any developments.

“Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. As you know, I take the use of taxpayer dollars very seriously,” said Reinhardt in an exchange of emails.  “… I have asked for a response from AFSCME. I will make sure the response is shared with you.”

One of the leading figures in the ongoing legal effort to prevent AFSCME from unionizing small-business child-care providers challenged Ramsey County officials to rethink funding CCPT.

“Now here we’ve got proof it’s being used inappropriately, exactly how we say it’s being used, exactly how they’ve been denying it’s being used,” said Jennifer Parrish, a Rochester provider and lead plaintiff in a case now before the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. “I’m willing to bet they’re not going to do a thing about it. They’re going to continue to fund them.”

While Ramsey County officials wait for more answers, taxpayer funding for CCPT will continue to flow.

“The information we have received directly has been reviewed, and Ramsey County has continued to fund this effort to provide another avenue to distribute valuable information and to expand the training offerings available to providers,” said Haley. “The $25,000 approved by the Ramsey County Board for 2014 is intended and will continue to be used for the research and information activities stated in the contract.”

Contact Tom Steward at tsteward@watchdog.org

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Tom Steward covers government waste, spending and policy issues in his home state of Minnesota. Also a documentary filmmaker and in-depth broadcast journalist, Tom's work has appeared on NPR, Animal Planet, WCCO-TV, WGBH-TV, PBS, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, KSTP-TV, CBC, among other outlets. Highlights include the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Peabody Award, the first footage in the wild of the endangered Sumatran tiger and rhino and countless individuals who shared their stories, big and small. Steward served as a communications strategist in the U.S. Senate before returning to reporting on issues and people often overlooked by other media.