Minneapolis, MN – On April 8, Hennepin County Administrator David Hough plans to fire or put on track to terminate over 150 workers for not being vaccinated. While union representatives of AFSCME 2822 are awaiting demographic data, past disciplines suggest the firings will hit workers of color and low wage workers the hardest.
The mass firings come as COVID-19 infections reach historic lows in our communities. the county and state have already rolled back all previously implemented safety measures such as mask mandates, access to free at-home testing and occupancy limits in buildings.
Two Hennepin County unions have filed lawsuits over implementation of the vaccine requirement. The county has no plan to require staff to receive booster shots.
“Before the county decided to fire unvaccinated workers, workers could choose to submit weekly COVID tests or vaccinate. Implementation of this policy was not equal across race and class lines. Based on data provided by the county, low wage workers received the most aggressive disciplines, and while we don’t have the ‘official’ racial breakdown yet, we know the majority who received escalated disciplines are workers of color,” said Jayne Mikulay, executive board member of AFSCME Local 2822 representing county support staff workers.
“Make this make sense to me. We are pro-vaccine but you have the public coming into county buildings and we don’t know if they’re vaccinated and they don’t have to wear masks. But you’re terminating workers over the vaccine? Hennepin County, make this make sense – stop the firings and bring back workers who were already fired,” Regina Kittrell, co-chief steward of AFSCME Local 2822 declared.
Kittrell, an African American woman and mother, is no stranger to this fight. In 2020 she was wrongfully fired after advocating for COVID safety measures in her own workplace. She was shortly reinstated after a successful campaign led by Local 2822 proved her innocence.
The county has not reported terminations related to COVID testing but AFSCME Local 2822 knows of at least two, both Black women. Irish Gauna, one of the two workers terminated for alleged testing violations, has five young kids and is the sole breadwinner in her home. She was fired despite presenting documentation to HR proving she was not at fault for her delayed test results.
Many oppressed nationality communities, particularly African Americans and indigenous people, have been historically targeted as guinea pigs for the medical industry and do not trust vaccines.
Under the guise of safety, workers are being disciplined and terminated for choosing what is best for them and their bodies – bodies that were good enough to keep the county running before vaccines but are now suddenly disposable.
On November 16, county commissioners passed a resolution authorizing County Administrator David Hough the power to implement, modify and potentially end the vaccine mandate. AFSCME 2822 is calling on Hough to stop the mass firings, reinstate Irish Gauna and others, and rescind all COVID-related disciplines.