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Hennepin County AFSCME members authorize strike

By staff |
December 15, 2021
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Hennepin County AFSCME members rally for a decent contract
Hennepin County AFSCME members rally for a decent contract (Fight Back! News/staff)

Minneapolis, MN - On December 13, over 3500 Hennepin County clerical and social service workers who are members AFSCME Locals 34 and 2822 rejected the county’s “last best and final” contract offer and authorized a strike across both locals. The two locals represent the largest blocks of organized workers in the Hennepin County system.

The AFSCME members say the county’s offer is an attempt to stagnate wages and pass costs of operating onto employees. They also say that the county has ignored the risks that frontline workers face during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the workers have been forced to work in-person throughout the pandemic without proper safety protocols or PPE and are demanding to be compensated and that costs associated with the pandemic not fall on the workers.

The AFSCME members vote to reject the contract offer happened on the day after members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 also rejected an offer from the county.

Throughout negotiations process the AFSCME members held many actions and rallies to raise public awareness of their fight and to show management that they will not back down. They are demanding compensation for COVID risks that many of their members have endured, and reimbursements for costs associated with the shift to work-from-home for remote workers.

At the same time that the AFSCME members are raising their demands, Hennepin County has responded by proposing multiple takebacks from the union members. The county wants to create a two-tier system where, for all new employees, they would eliminate sick time and vacation and transition to a PTO only system, as well as transitioning costs to the union when arbitration is required to settle grievances and other issues.

The AFSCME members point out that the county has a $199 million general fund saved up, as well as $144 million in its Health and Human Services fund and a $20 million fund for contingencies. In 2020 alone the county received $224 million in federal aid related to COVID-19 and another $246 million in 2021 as part of the American Rescue plan. Yet the county has not offered hazard pay to its workers or reimbursement for work from home expenses.

AFSCME Local 2822 President Ai Fuhrman said, “Our members made their demands clear throughout the process. Many of us are working two to three jobs and are still not able to afford housing in the county.” She added, “The county didn’t take us seriously. We call on the county to take us seriously now and make a real offer that our members can accept.”

The members have now voted to authorize a strike. The union says that no start date for a strike has been set, however, it would begin no earlier than January 11 and they may elect to begin the strike later.

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