Our bad: AFSCME changes story about using tax dollars for union organizing


By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

ST. PAUL, Minn. — AFSCME has wasted little time reacting to a Watchdog Minnesota Bureau report, which found the union took taxpayer money designated for child-care training and used it for union organizing.

Officials in Ramsey County demanded answers about $19,885 in taxpayer money the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 listed in 2011 as reimbursement for union organizing in 2011.

The union blamed the controversy on a self-inflicted reporting error that will be revised on federal disclosure forms.

Our bad, the union said. Ditto for $13,453 from taxpayers in 2012 — money, the union told the feds, went for organizing.

AFSCME now says the union didn’t mistakenly use taxpayer money for organizing. Instead, the labor group claims to have mistakenly reported using that money for organizing — for two consecutive years.

In a terse two-sentence letter to county officials, AFSCME Council 5’s business manager advised county officials the union planned to amend the LM-2 federal reports as soon as possible.

“I am writing to inform you that immediately upon learning of the error in our LM-2 reporting we are amending the reports for 2011 and 2012,” wrote Diane Johnston. “The amended reports will correctly annotate all monies received from Ramsey County as ‘Training.’”

The unusual reversal came within hours of a Watchdog Minnesota Bureau story revealing AFSCME filed financial reports with the U.S. Department of Labor showing that Child Care Providers Together, a union affiliate, spent $33,300 in taxpayer money from Ramsey County on organizing for a controversial child-care providers union. AFSCME did not respond to a Watchdog Minnesota Bureau request for comment.

The Ramsey County contract lists the services expected of CCPT, including outreach to providers and families on child-care programs, eligibility requirements, information on asthma and other health issues. A reading of the five-page county contract confirms the list of deliverables did not include union drives.

“Organizing is not one of the activities, nor is it expected to be,” said Dave Haley, executive assistant in the Ramsey County Community Human Services Department.

NOT BUYING IT: Cyndi Cunningham, center, a child care provider who opposes a union, wants Commissioners Victoria Reinhardt (on her left) and Janice Rettman (on her right) to demand more answers from AFSCME on use of taxpayer funding.

Licensed child-care providers who oppose a union have long alleged CCPT used taxpayer money for organizing activities against their small businesses. 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 budget for 2014-15.

Opponents say Ramsey County officials should demand financial and training records before accepting AFSCME’s explanation of a reporting error.

“It is appalling how the union is able to change what they label something so quickly without any review or explanation,” said Cyndi Cunningham, an opponent of a provider union who operates her own St. Paul child-care business. “There is no apparent recording or accountability for what trainings are being offered, nor how many providers are being reached. If it’s not union organizing by the union’s standards, it is promoting the union.”

Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, a union supporter, indicated officials would continue to scrutinize the current two-year CCPT contract.

“As we have done in the past for this and other contracts for services, Ramsey County will review activities and any subsequent payments to ensure they are in compliance with the contract,” said Reinhardt. “I really appreciate you bringing this issue to my attention. Please do not hesitate to let me know if there are any other concerns or questions.”

Contact Tom Steward at tsteward@watchdog.org

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