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Minnesota: Hennepin County union members win reinstatement of fired chief steward

By staff |
March 25, 2021
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Minneapolis, MN - On March 10, AFSCME Local 2822 and its Co-chief Steward Regina Kittrell won an astonishing victory. Kittrell will be fully reinstated in her position and provided with back pay retroactive to her dismissal, effective January 8. This comes on the heels of an aggressive union campaign that combined community outreach and union solidarity with the union grievance process.

Kittrell was dismissed as the result of an investigation in September regarding an email petition she helped organize in July as part of an effort to ensure her employer followed Governor Tim Walz’s order supporting remote work wherever possible. When this petition was made public, Kittrell’s employer, NorthPoint Health & Wellness, led by CEO Stella Whitney-West, began an investigation into possible wrongdoing by Kittrell. NorthPoint claimed that Kittrell violated HIPAA, because the email petition she was involved with mentioned the number of positive COVID cases in Kittrell’s department. This is not a violation of any part of the HIPAA law.

NorthPoint held a series of interviews in September and waited until the winter holidays to inform Kittrell of the fate of her job: she would be terminated on December 28. Upon receiving this news, Kittrell’s union, AFSCME Local 2822, leapt into action. 2822 organized the other AFSCME locals in Hennepin County to produce letters of solidarity and support that they sent to the Hennepin County board of commissioners, alongside letters of support from Kittrell’s coworkers.

When the dismissal was upheld on January 8, Local 2822 drafted and circulated a petition, organized a call-in campaign, and distributed flyers at the NorthPoint Clinic. Local 2822 also sought the help of friendly labor and community organizations. The day before Kittrell’s grievance, Local 2822 distributed flyers and buttons outside of NorthPoint. This action was livestreamed by local activist journalist KingDemetrius Pendleton and was publicized by the Minneapolis NAACP. On the date Kittrell’s grievance was held, nobody at Hennepin County could claim innocence or ignorance of NorthPoint’s retaliation against an AFSCME chief steward.

This public pressure led to swift and unexpected victory. Six days after hearing Kittrell’s grievance, Hennepin County Human Resources Director Michael Rossman rescinded Kittrell’s termination. Kittrell’s Co-chief Steward Shane Clune said, “We never see a termination like this overturned without going to arbitration. We won this because we turned the workers and the community out and gave the county no other option.”

This victory doesn’t mean that Local 2822, or Kittrell, are done fighting. AFSCME Local 2822 President Ali Fuhrman said, “While this is an important win, Regina’s termination reflects a pattern of racial disparities at the county. A white worker would never have been terminated on such a flimsy pretext as Regina’s. Workers of color still make up more than half of the people terminated by the county, while they only make up about 30% of its workforce.”

While Kittrell and Local 2822 take a moment to celebrate, the fight goes on