When asked why it is important for supervisors to be represented James spoke from his experience coming from a state where supervisors were not represented. He highlighted the ability to come together as an MMA entity with the power of many voices. In a State the size of Minnesota, he felt we need leverage to represent our interests. When James came to DNR as a supervisor, this was his first time being represented. In Michigan, where he came from, unions were presented negatively and he sees the national move to ‘right to work states’, having a negative impact on employees. "They are losing their pensions and other benefits are being stripped away. We need to protect the benefits we were promised and earned."
Asked what he sees as the immediate challenges facing MMA, Jame's first comment was on the political scene – both state and federal – and the effort to portray unions as the problem.
"The language used by opponents of unions, for example, 'right to work', is very misleading as unions provide the rights and opportunities to work. This tactic should be called, 'take our pension' because that is what they really want to do. When you look at what has happened in Wisconsin and Iowa, and look at the current research on 'right to work' states, you see state employees in 'right to work' states have lower benefits. Another item relates to budgets and staffing. Cuts are being made resulting in fewer resources creating more work for our supervisors.”
James believes MMA will need to keep fighting to hold on to our benefits.
In spite of this, James also believes there are still opportunities for MMA to benefit supervisors.
"MMA has been reaching out to supervisors to find out what they want and need and a frequent request is for more professional development. We can continue working with the State to approve our professional development offerings as educational leave. The supervisory conference this past fall is a great example of what can be done when the state and union work together for a common goal. MMA recognizes that employee professional development is the State's responsibility but we are looking at ways to enhance the opportunities for our members. Perhaps there are other ways we can build off of our past successes to provide our members with the training/skills they need to succeed. We are exploring a wide range of ideas including rotating brown bag lunch educational offerings."
James also expressed some excitement about serving as MMA president. As he put it, “This is a very interesting time to be taking over as president. We are on the cusp of something new. MMA staff as a whole are very excited about the MMA union and getting it positioned as a leader. Their willingness and ability to try something new and take this union in various directions is very exciting. There are people out there who have great ideas. This is MMA's opportunity to be a leader in respect to unions.”
When asked about his goals as MMA President, James was certainly energized and full of ideas.
“I will strive to provide more benefits for our members. MMA had been too lax in recent years. We need to continue reaching out to our members and educating them about the benefits MMA has to offer and what we legally can and cannot do. For example, members want us to negotiate for the ability to donate individually to their Health Care Savings Plan. This is set by IRS rules so we are not able to negotiate this. I want to get members more engaged in the union, whether it is by serving on committees, attending trainings, serving on their local association, or just letting us know what they need. This is our union, let’s make it the example of all unions. An important tool that will help guide us is our strategic plan. We need to finalize it so we have a better idea of what we want to be and how we want to get there.”
James ended our discussion with this final thought…
“It is an exciting time - there is a lot going on right now and I encourage members to get involved, to take an active role in their Local Association and serving on MMA committees.”
James Pointer is an interpretive supervisor at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park and has been with the State of Minnesota for 12 years. This is James first experience with unions, both belonging to one and supervising employees that belong to one.
When James is not at work, he enjoys being in the outdoors (camping, canoeing and hiking). His family recently purchased a new home, so he can be found working on projects around the house (which can be fun and stressful at the same time)!