'Get comfy with legislators'

Thursday, June 23, 2011

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. - Lobbying isn't just for the bosses anymore. 

Jackie Semrad, the compliance officer for Reliable Medical Supply in Brooklyn Park, Minn., has a new way to get employees talking with lawmakers. Through a new program, called "Get comfy with legislators," Semrad invites her 86 employees to donate $5 to MAMES and to reach out to state and federal lawmakers in exchange for wearing jeans the first Wednesday of the month.

"Lobbying puts a face on our industry," said Semrad. "So many people don't know about us until they need us."

Currently, Semrad has participating employees focusing on state issues. She plans to switch to competitive bidding and audits once the state legislature recesses.

Increasing involvement is a constant goal for Rose Schafhauser, executive director of the Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services (MAMES). The association currently has four lobbyists working for providers in the Midwest.

"Companies want to help pay, but things are kind of tight," Schafhauser said. "So let's get the employees involved. If you make just a small investment, it's going to help us get our voices heard."

Many of Reliable's employees had never contacted state lawmakers before or even knew their names, Semrad said. Most sent e-mails and many received responses within 15 minutes. 

"Employees feel like they're really involved, like they're really part of change in Minnesota," said Semrad. 

Eighteen employees participated in the May 11 event, raising $75 for MAMES. Semrad expects increased participation in the coming months, now that employees see how easy it was for others. 

"We have to save our industry, even if we have to do it one call at a time," said Semrad. "If that's what it takes, then that's what we'll do."