Hennepin County leadership are facing demands to end what's being called a “dangerous work or debt” mandate for hundreds of lower-wage library and service center workers.
According to a release from the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, the affected employees — who can no longer work as of Sunday — have been told they can either go on unpaid leave or be reassigned to "high-risk public-facing" jobs instead.
The problem with the unpaid leave option, the union says, is that the workers "are being forced to use up personal leave balances," go unpaid and apply for unemployment, or "consent to go into a negative leave balance," which they'd end up owing the county if they're laid off.
As for the job reassignment option, AFSCME says it would force the employees to work in local hotels housing homeless — some with coronavirus symptoms — during the pandemic.
Additionally, there are only 50 available positions in the hotels, according to the release.
AFSCME says the workers, who are "some of the lowest paid in the County," were given very little notice about their options, and have not received answers to "basic HR questions around unemployment eligibility, continuation of benefits, or what would happen when the allowable leave balances ran out."
The union is demanding the following from Hennepin County:
- "Immediately stop or delay" the reassignment policy requiring employees to choose between "high-risk" work and using their personal leave
- Provide remote work or full paid leave for "the entirety of the COVID 19 pandemic"
- Provide double hazard pay and protective gear for workers who choose to be reassigned to hotels and other sites housing the homeless
- Keep non-essential buildings closed until "they can be made safe for our communities and workers"
Speaking to the Star Tribune about these initiatives, County Administrator David Hough said "we didn’t make this decision lightly."
Responding to the local AFSCME's charge that the moves are "retaliation" against workers for pushing to close libraries and service centers when "county officials didn’t want to do it," Hough told the paper the county "can’t allow employees to work at home and get paid with taxpayer dollars if they have no work to do."
BringMeTheNews has reached out to Hennepin County for comment.