At the Board of Hennepin County Commissioners Administration, libraries and budget committee meeting on Tuesday, November 12th, AFSCME members spoke out against and discussed their experiences of sexual harassment at Hennepin County libraries from patrons and co-workers.
Various county employees testified passionately about their experiences and day to day struggles navigating harassment and their perception of a lack of support from supervisors and county officials. According to the testimony, the threat of and the experience of sexual harassment is a persistent problem for county employees in the library system and potentially for patrons that use the publicly available service.
The presence of AFSCME members at the county commission meeting is the culmination of two years of activism and advocacy among AFSCME members who have been fighting to improve employer practices around experiences of sexual harassment and assault in their workplace.
Ali Fuhrman, President of AFSCME Local 2822 led the comment period around sexual harassment explaining that,
Anna Zillinger, President of AFSCME Local 2864 spoke to the persistence of the problem and the overall impact.
Workers described a persistent fear of being followed in and out of the workplace. A library staffer, Angel Gardner-Kocher testified that,
She described another co-worker retelling a time when she was followed by library patrons. In her time with the county, supervisors had never discussed sexual harassment and in her experience, the security staff seems to be “overwhelmed with higher-level offenses.”
Gardner-Kocher further stated,
“In the seven and a half years I’ve been working for the library I’ve seen little progress in addressing what is such a common problem for me and many of my colleagues.”
Librarian Zee Warholm-Wohlenhaus stated, “I don’t know a single library staff person who hasn’t been confronted by the ugliness of harassment, sexual harassment or violence in our workplaces.”
Warholm-Wohlenhaus further stated,
Hennepin County Commissioner and Chair of the administration, libraries and budget committee, Debbie Goettel, sent a statement over email:
In response to the concerns raised by the libraries, the Hennepin County media relations department replied via email with the following statement.
Collectively the librarians hope that their supervisors and decision-makers at the county take strong steps soon to begin dismantling the culture of the harassment that they believe is endemic in the county library system.