Minneapolis, MN – In Minneapolis and surrounding Hennepin County, AFSCME members are demanding that the county commissioners use some of the $246 million they county received from the American Rescue Plan to go to hazard pay for frontline workers as well as compensation in the form of stipends for remote employees for things like internet and cooling bills, to cover the increases in those utilities caused by working from home. Last year Hennepin County received $224 million in relief funds while offering nothing in the form of hazard pay at the same time as grocery store workers saw a $3 per hour increase.
Just last week an onsite worker who was an adult protection field agent with the county contracted COVID after visiting clients in their homes and facilities where COVID outbreaks were rampant.
The union members say that their members have been put in positions forcing them into direct contact with people with COVID, including recently deceased COVID patients, and some of them have gotten sick themselves with COVID. Some of them have jobs that involve close contact with people, or doing things like crawling under cramped stairwells or through cluttered homes or bushes, which means that PPE may not be enough and is extremely hard to keep in place safely in their jobs.
In a public statement from the Hennepin County AFSCME Policy Committee the union members said, “The County, as a public entity is fiscally responsible for spending a portion of the influx of federal funds to protect and enhance services to county residents.” The union members say that the Hennepin County commissioners have enjoyed six figure salaries to work remotely, sometimes from places as far away as California. At the same time, they have not issued the workers’ requested hazard pay for the risks they are taking, or stipends for expenses for employees working from home.
The union members are also demanding the establishment of a new Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion, which would increase access to the internet for county residents who otherwise do not have access to this increasingly important utility. They say that the workers and county residents are having to pay for this pandemic and are demanding some of the federal money go to these types of services.