Hennepin Social Workers Avoid Strike

Jasmine Chikkala, managing editor

3,500 Hennepin County case managers and financial staff almost went on strike this week. According to ABC 5 Eyewitness News KSTP-TV, after two rounds of negotiating a new contract with the county management and union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) locals 34 and 2822 reached a tentative settlement agreement. Workers were in debt to the county if they used more sick time than allowed, which did not account for the stressors of the pandemic. The initial contract also included cuts to health insurance and salary. Meanwhile, the county has been thriving financially. Unionizing was a way these workers could express their needs, thoughts and desires to be successful in their job.

Offers were made for a 2.5% pay increase, 3% annual wage increase, removal of debt for time off from COVID-19, furlough, or increased sick days than the typical amount of time off. Workers will receive $500 in pandemic recognition pay, more time for paternal leave, bus subsidies and extended time off for funeral leave. 

“As a union, we have the ultimate power to withhold labor,” said President of AFSCME 34 and social worker Grace Baltich in a phone call with the Echo. “We didn’t get all of the things we deserved, however, we felt it was enough to ratify the contract.”

“While I knew that the Union was there to protect me and my job, the county administration used its power to state only partial truths about the labor contract for which we were fighting, to sway employees from striking for a better contract during the pandemic and increased costs of living due to inflation.” an Augsburg adjunct professor who works for Hennepin county told the Echo.

KSTP-TV described how Hennepin County case managers and financial staff negotiated a contract one week prior for an increase in pay and a decrease in debt. After voting against the first offer, the staff had filed an intent to strike on Feb. 2, 2022. A vote will be made on Feb. 3  to vote on the tentative settlement. Workers had been doubling their workload to not neglect the clients’ needs.

“Now that the strike has been cancelled, I am both relieved and disappointed,” said the same Augsburg adjunct professor. “I did not realize the impact striking would have on my emotional well being. The uncertainty was the hardest. I was worried for being without work (and pay) for an undetermined amount of time.”

AFSCME Local 2822, one of the unions that organizes Hennepin county clerical workers, asserts the necessity of its work through its slogan – “The county works because we do.” Although the county workers did not get everything they wanted out of the settlement agreement, for as long as unions like Local 2822 exists, the workers that compose them will surely continue to tirelessly advocate for their rights, asserting their necessity in the context of the county.