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In Response: Mayor's words not in line with her administration's actions

From the column: "City bargaining units have supported the city through lean times. Now, when the money is there for all to see, it’s apparently just not convenient for (Duluth Mayor Emily Larson) or her administration to take care of city workers."

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1995 News Tribune file photo

In a Dec. 28 column in the News Tribune , Duluth Mayor Emily Larson wrote about the hope she has for 2022 due to the dedication of city workers. Her words were very glowing and described positively the hard work city employees have been doing the past year.

While we agree with her assessment of the work city employees do and their importance to the safety and enjoyment of those who live, work, and visit our city, we do not feel her actions and the actions of her administration have been mirroring her sentiments. In fact, while the mayor’s column may have given the public the impression she supports city employees, her actions have told the employees themselves a very different story.

In the past year, despite continued work through a pandemic — including emergency schedule changes, reduced staffing, and many “new normals” — Mayor Larson has showed her support for city workers by attempting to force them to accept a change in health care coverage that would result in a lower level of coverage at an increased cost. During a time when the mayor herself has publicly stated that city employees are underpaid, she wanted them to pay more for their health care, and in return she offered a pay incentive that would not have covered the increased cost for employees.

Adding insult to injury, the mayor and her administration stated that employees’ earned health care benefits were costing the city too much, and they publicly announced the proposed changes prior to any negotiations or meetings with the various bargaining units that represent city employees.

The mayor also wrote in her column about the sacrifices city employees make. But she failed to mention the continued lack of pay and her administration's efforts to avoid paying a fair market rate. The mayor’s administration went to great lengths early last year to explain its inability to use federal American Rescue Plan funds on public-safety costs due to alleged federal restrictions. But then the president of the United States declared mere days later facts to the contrary.

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The mayor’s administration went on to spend some $12 million of American Rescue Plan funds on heating and cooling systems at City Hall. Also, while public-safety training and equipment costs continued to be underfunded by the mayor and her administration, they found money to continue to add management-level positions to the city budget. Meanwhile, rank-and-file workers — who run this city day and night, rain or shine, and many without the option of working remotely — continue to be left behind.

City bargaining units have supported the city through lean times. The Duluth Police Local 807 members agreed to several years of no wage increases, hiring freezes, and restructured retirement benefits to help take care of the city when it claimed there was no money for workers. Now, when the money is there for all to see, it’s apparently just not convenient for the mayor or her administration to take care of city workers — your police, your firefighters, and your plow drivers.

Adam Casillas and Bob Schmidt wrote this on behalf of the unions representing Duluth firefighters and Duluth police officers. Casillas is president of Duluth Fire Local 101, and Schmidt is president of Duluth Police Local 807.

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