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Hennepin County Workers Reject County’s Offer and Authorize a Strike

By AFSCME Locals 34 and 2822

photo credit James “Jim” Edin

AFSCME Locals 34 and 2822 have rejected Hennepin County’s latest labor contract offer. The County is attempting to stagnate wages, pass business costs on to employees, and is blatantly ignoring COVID risks employees are enduring during the pandemic. AFSCME Local 34 and Local 2822 members include social workers, human services representatives, service center representatives, and library workers.

On Monday December 13,workers represented by AFSCME Locals 34 and 2822 voted to reject Hennepin County’s “Last, Best, and Final Offer,” and authorize a strike. The no vote comes one day after members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, representing county snow plow drivers and other workers also rejected the county’s offer.

Collectively AFSCME Locals 34 and 2822 represent 3,545 workers at Hennepin County, the two largest bargaining units who work at the county.

Throughout the negotiations process, AFSCME has made it clear to the employer that its members demand wages that keep up with inflation, real compensation for the COVID costs, and respect.

AFSCME also made it clear that the county’s take-backs were unacceptable, including introducing a two-tiered system eliminating sick and vacation leave for new hires (leaving PTO as the only option), and attacks on the union’s power by shifting costs of the arbitration process.

The county is in excellent financial shape with the highest bond rating and hundreds of millions of dollars in reserves. In 2020 the county received $224 million in federal aid for COVID, and in 2021 received $246 million through the American Rescue plan, with the last round of relief specifically earmarked by President Biden to go to hazard pay.

 Despite receiving nearly half a billion in COVID funding, the county has not offered hazard pay to workers to account for the risks they’re taking while serving Hennepin County residents directly during the COVID-19 pandemic,or compensate its workers for the increased costs of working from home.

 “It’s clear from our vote that our AFSCME members have rejected Hennepin County’s efforts to stagnate wages and continue to shift business costs onto us, despite the County having the means to offer wages that keep up with inflation, reimburse us for shifted costs, and provide hazard pay for COVID risks,” said social worker and Local 34 President Grace Baltich.

 “Many of us are working two to three jobs and are still not able to afford housing in the county. Still others are on or eligible for welfare while working for the County! A 2.5% wage increase with inflation going up 7% is completely unacceptable. We care about the people we serve, but we need to be able to survive ourselves. Respect and fair wages mean great service to the community,” stated AFSCME Local 2822 President Ali Fuhrman, clerical worker at the Downtown Minneapolis Library.  “We call on the county to take us seriously now, and make a real offer that our members can accept.”

A strike would begin no earlier than January 11, but the union may elect to begin its strike later.

Community members can support county workers by contacting their Hennepin County commissioner and telling them they should support county workers in their contract fight for better wages and respect! If you live near Phillips or Powderhorn,  your commissioner is Angela Conley. Send her a message or call her! angela.conley@hennepin.us Phone: 612-348-7884

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