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AFSCME Local 2822 tells Hennepin County to halt dangerous work or debt mandate to clerical workers

By staff |
April 4, 2020
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Minneapolis, MN - The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2822, representing 1300 clerical workers in Hennepin County, is calling on Hennepin County to immediately halt Hennepin County administrator David Hough’s dangerous work or debt mandate to library and service center workers.

AFCME Local 2822 is demanding Hennepin County immediately stop or delay the move requiring 311 county workers to either agree to be reassigned to high-risk public-facing work or to use their earned leave balances and/or go into debt with the county to pay themselves. They also call on the county to provide safe remote work, or paid administrative leave, for library and service center workers; and to provide hazard pay for workers putting their lives on the line at hotels and other places housing the homeless.

On Tuesday, March 31, 311 Hennepin County workers, including about 220 library support staff and around 80 licensing service center representatives, were notified that they would no longer be allowed to work from home beginning Sunday, April 5.

These workers are being forced to use up personal leave balances, take unpaid leave and apply for unemployment, or consent to go into a negative leave balance, which would be required to be paid back to the county in full if workers are subsequently laid off. Workers received the notice by email with less than four days to respond, although some workers got missed and had fewer than 24 hours to respond. On the morning of April 3, county administration was still unable to answer basic human resources questions around unemployment eligibility, continuation of benefits, or what would happen when the allowable leave balances ran out.

With less than four days-notice, workers also had to decide whether to sign up for limited temporary reassignment spots. According to management, as of April 1, the approximately 50 available positions were high-risk jobs providing face-to-face public service at the hotels serving community members who are experiencing homelessness, including quarantine sites for homeless residents who are symptomatic for coronavirus. The county had made a call for county employees to volunteer for redeployment at these sites on March 23 but has been having difficulty keeping the sites staffed.

All Hennepin County libraries and licensing service centers have been closed to the public since March 17 as a public safety measure to limit community transmission of COVID-19. Library support staff and service center representatives had been working from home by providing direct online resident services, helping plan modified remote services, and completing necessary trainings. However, in an email to union representatives on March 31, Hennepin County Labor Relations Director Kathy Megarry explained that impacted workers had “been identified by their departments as not having meaningful work” to do from home. Neither workers nor supervisors had been told by county administration what would constitute “meaningful work.”

The workers being required to stop working are also some of the lowest-paid in the county. The largest group of impacted workers, library specialists, have a starting hourly rate of $16.82. The library specialist job is also touted by the county as a pathway to bring more diverse workers into the county workforce.

James Nicholson, an administrative assistant at Hosmer Community Library in South Minneapolis and an Executive Board Member of AFSCME Local 2864, which represents librarians, said, “this action of forcing our colleagues to accept potentially harmful public-facing jobs or be saddled with huge negative leave balances shows a disregard for their value as human beings and employees.” Other public-facing workers in the library, like librarians and associate librarians, are still being allowed to work remotely.

Service center and library workers fought hard to get public-facing buildings closed when it became apparent, they could not provide services to residents without putting the public and county workers at unnecessary risk.

Ali Fuhrman, AFSCME Local 2822 president and library specialist at Minneapolis Central Library in downtown Minneapolis said, “Before they closed the buildings, we had instances of over 100 people waiting in small service center lobbies for hours to renew their drivers’ licenses. We had hundreds of people, including many at-risk and homeless individuals coming to our libraries, specifically at our downtown public library, with no disinfecting of public computers. The workers spoke out and successfully closed the buildings. Now we are being punished for our advocacy for the public good and being told the work we continue to do remotely isn’t good enough.”

Local 2822 and Hennepin County workers also continue to speak out against ongoing safety concerns and a lack of proper protective equipment throughout the county, especially as the county has been hinting at plans to restart public services at some non-essential county facilities sooner rather than later.

2822 Co-Chief Steward Shane Clune said, “Workers already lack proper safety equipment. Correctional workers and detained youth at the Juvenile Detention Center and County Home School continue to work at facilities with limited or no supplies of masks, sanitizer or disinfectant wipes. This is unacceptable. How can we encourage our workers to redeploy when the county can’t provide for the staff currently deployed? And why would we divert equipment needed to save lives in hospitals to re-open non-essential buildings?”

AFSCME Local 2822 and the five other AFSCME locals of Hennepin County, totaling nearly 5000 Hennepin County workers, continue to demand:

-- Full paid pandemic leave for the entirety of the COVID 19 Pandemic period for: those who are ill, at high risk, living with or caring for others who are high-risk, parents and caregivers with children out of school/and or daycare, and those displaced from work due to building closures;

-- 2X hazard pay for all workers who are essential and cannot work from home;

-- Effective PPE for all workers engaging face-to-face with the public;

-- Keep non-essential buildings closed until it is clear they can be made safe for our communities and workers.

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