Earlier today Hennepin County library and service center workers, represented by AFSCME Local 2822, held a “in car” convergence at the Ridgedale Library parking lot.
AFSCME Local 2822 is calling on Hennepin County to:
- End its library curbside pick-up pilot program until the spread of COVID-19 is better understood in Minnesota
- End its drive-through window at Maple Grove Licensing service center
- Delay drop box service at service centers until workers can process motor vehicle and other transactions remotely.
On Monday, April 13, Hennepin County started bringing non-essential workers represented by AFSCME Local 2822 back to work in order to provide onsite non-critical services at eight libraries and one licensing service center. According to the union, this is enough work for 30 employees. Approximately 220 Library Specialists and 80 Service Center Representatives had not been allowed to work remotely and had not been paid by the County since April 5. In addition, recalled Associate Librarians, who had been working remotely since March 19, were not allowed to continue working remotely if they declined onsite work. The same day curbside and drive-through services began, AFSCME Local 2822 filed a class action grievance against the lockout action previously taken by Hennepin County.
Liz Knaeble, a Library Specialist at Webber Park Library in North Minneapolis said, “I have had to choose between going back to work where I am putting my health and perhaps my life at risk (I am 60 years old) and staying home, without knowing if I will have any money coming in. We get the message that our lives are not valued.” Knaeble ultimately decided to take care of her health and declined the recall to curbside service at Webber Park Library. She is waiting to be informed of her eligibility for unemployment benefits.
Library and service center workers have been raising public health concerns about the implementation of non-essential curbside and drive-up service, especially as the County decided to make recall to these high-risk locations involuntary, over the protest of Local 2822.
According to the union:
“The County turned the concept of workplace seniority from a benefit into a punishment. Calling the most long-term employees first, workers were told if they declined to accept a recall, they would lose any paid remote work they were doing, paid leave options and potentially lose unemployment benefits. Workers were given three hours or less to accept the recall with limited information about safety or other options for paid leave. Many workers reported not being informed about the eligibility for Federal paid leave for high-risk workers or for parents/caregivers. Workers also shared that they felt coerced to accept the recall to the pilot curbside services.”
Library workers have also been raising questions about lack of conclusive research and guidance on coronavirus transmission on library materials.
In an emailed response to the union’s concerns, the county stated,
“Hennepin County is providing curbside pickup workers with appropriate PPE, primarily gloves and cloth face masks. Even more important, though, is that materials cannot be returned at this time. Curbside pickup workers are only handling material that have been undisturbed inside the library for nearly a month. This is a balance of providing limited service to the community in these challenging times while taking precautions for the safety of our employees.”
Some library patrons and community members had been putting pressure on Hennepin County Library to provide curbside library services, and to expand those services to include returns and to add more locations. But library workers are sounding this alarm for public health.
“No one cares more about the library collection and access to it than frontline library workers. But circulating materials that only a few patrons can access is not worth the risk to workers and the community,” Lindsey Fenner, Library Specialist at Hosmer Library in South Minneapolis, and AFSCME Local 2822 Executive Board member said in her open forum comments at the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, April 7.
Library workers are also pushing Hennepin County Library to focus more on providing innovative remote services that support more community members. Locked out library specialists and recalled associate librarians had been supporting the development of creative remote delivery methods for a wide range of library services.
Jayne Mikulay, a Library Specialist at East Lake Library, Vice President of AFSCME Local 2822, and a South Minneapolis community member and parent said, “I am supporting my son with distance learning and we continue to see the digital divide with children and families not having access to technology. We are not supporting the communities that need the most support right now by focusing on picking up books. Holds for books are primarily placed by patrons who already have access to technology. I want to support my library community by doing what’s best for safety and what’s best for communities that experience the most disparities.”