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Why I Voted to Strike

3,500 Hennepin County workers will walk out in February unless a last minute deal is made, and I will be one of them.

By LINDSEY FENNER

Editorial note: AFSCME Locals 34 and 2822 reached mediated tentative agreements with Hennepin County and withdrew their “intent to strike” after the February print edition of the alley went to press. Hennepin County AFSCME members will be voting on this proposed offer in the first week of February.

As you may have read in last month’s alley, Hennepin County AFSCME workers in Locals 34 and 2822 voted to reject Hennepin County’s last contract offer and authorized a strike. In mid-January, our negotiation team went back to the table with the County and received the exact same offer our memberships already voted to reject. After this latest insult and show of bad faith, our locals filed an intent to strike on January 19. If a last-minute deal can’t be made, we –3,500 County social services workers and clerical workers– will be walking out at the beginning of February.

I’m a member of Local 2822, which represents about 1,200 clerical workers at Hennepin County. We work in every department of the County, doing the support work that is often invisible but absolutely essential for every other County worker to keep serving County residents. We are among the lowest paid workers in the County, and more likely to be women and workers of color. Many of us qualify for the same County assistance we help County residents access. We are paid like we’re disposable.

We are also the workers the County furloughed en masse at the beginning of the pandemic and the first workers called back into buildings (indeed, some of us NEVER stopped working in buildings). We’ve seen our staffing cut, so we’re always working short-staffed, even without waves of pandemic illness. We are treated like we’re disposable.

We haven’t received a cent of hazard pay.

I should stop here to say that I know we have it better at the County than a lot of workers. We have paid COVID sick leave, which is perhaps the most important employer support during a public health emergency. We have decent health insurance and paid holidays, all fought for by workers and our union with every contract. And in some regards, the contract we rejected this time around is better than the contract we accepted the last time we were in contract negotiations three years ago.

So what’s different THIS time?

I voted to strike because the County needs to understand it’s workers aren’t disposable.

I work at Hosmer Library, at the corner of 36th Street and 4th Avenue in South Minneapolis. Between getting all the books where they need to go (which in itself is a physically grueling job) and encouraging literacy and the free-flow of ideas and information, we do so much more. I help keep neighborhood kids fed and safe; help patrons in crisis access critical resources or scan, email, print, copy, fax critical documents; provide a warm space with running water for unsheltered folks; all while enforcing pandemic mask-wearing and making sure no one dies of a drug overdose in the building.

Some days this is easy. But most days this is emotionally brutal. We serve people who have fallen through the cracks, neighbors who didn’t know where else to turn, so they came to us. And we never treat them like they’re disposable.

And we, the workers, aren’t disposable either. Will I see you on the picket line?

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