Don't work for Free! 

By Angel Gardner-Kocher (AFSCME Local 2822 Steward)

We’ve all been there. You’re on your break and a patron, customer, or a coworker has a question that needs your expertise. You have a million things on your to-do list, but with staff being so stretched thin at work, you can’t seem to find the time to get it all done, so you eat lunch at your desk while you chip away at the tasks. The pressure to provide excellent service to the residents of Hennepin County, be a team player and manage all of the “other duties as assigned” is getting harder and harder as our staffing levels drop or remain stagnant and our workload increases.

At Hennepin County Library, while vacancies are no longer being held, they are not being filled quickly, nor does staffing meet the demands of library operations. Director Lois Langer Thompson reported that over the last five years, HCL has decreased FTE by 57, while increasing service hours and square footage. Last year, the library expanded the hours by over 10,000 hours a year without increasing staff.  As a result, many library workers spend more hours on public service desks and have less time to complete the other tasks that are part of their job description.  At meetings and trainings, innovation and creativity are encouraged, but our current workload and staffing leave us without enough time to do the things that make our jobs meaningful and connect to the communities we serve.

This trend is not isolated to only libraries, or Local 2822 workers, but persists across all job classes at Hennepin County. The Education, Engagement and Outreach Committee has heard from various departments that employees feel the pressure to work through breaks, come in early and/or stay late an bring work home with them. This creates unrealistic expectations for our successors and peers at our jobs and disrupts our work-life balance.  In many departments, working for free has become a norm, if not an expectation. If it is indeed an expectation in your department and you are not an exempt employee, then it is wage theft. If it is a norm for you, I challenge you to let it go. Leave work at work. If you can’t resist working on your break, leave your desk, or better yet, leave the building. Your productivity actually goes up when you take breaks and maintaining a healthy work-life balance means less susceptibility to stress-related illnesses. For an employee working an 8 hour day, you have the right to two 15-minute rest periods and a full 30-60 minute unpaid lunch under the union contract. Make sure you and your coworkers are taking them regularly. Union members fought hard and lives were sacrificed for the 8 hour work day. Let’s not reverse the gains that they made.

The Education, Engagement, and Outreach Committee is collecting information on how often employees work for free. We are distributing electronic time card worksheets to those who are interested in documenting how much time they actually work per pay period. If you are interested in participating, contact 

 Established in April 1950, AFSCME Local 34 represents over 1900 Social Service employees of Hennepin County.

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       AFSCME LOCAL 34                     Updated 12/20/2014

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"Let it Go"





Delta Fires Minimum Wage Activist! Delta Airlines fired 26-year employee Kip Hedges for speaking out publicly in support of a $15 minimum wage for workers at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. Delta claims Hedges made “disparaging” remarks about the company when he said “close to half” of Delta workers at MSP make less than $15. Hedges, a baggage handler, was an activist in the Machinists Union before Delta bought out Northwest Airlines and busted the union. Urge Delta and the Metropolitan Airports Commission to reinstate Hedges and to stop intimidating workers. Sign the online petition.

County Board Budget Bearing! At the final  Hennepin County Board meeting, the Commissioners approved an amended levy of 2.1% for 2015. 

2015 Quarterly Steward Meeting dates! January 12th, April 13th, July 13th and October 12th.

Scholarship Deadline is December 31! Wednesday Dec. 31 is the deadline to apply for AFSCME’s Family Scholarship. The renewable, $2,000 scholarships are for current high-school seniors who will graduate in 2015. Application materials and full eligibility requirements are available online.

January 7: Here’s Something to Tweet About!  Interested in maximizing your social media skills? Then sign up for Council 5’s Social Media Workshop. The hands-on training will show you how to get the most out of Facebook and Twitter to strengthen our union. Details: The free workshop is Friday January 23, 2015, from 1-4 p.m., at Council 5’s South St. Paul office. There would be a limit of 2 spots per local union. Local 34 will select our representatives at our General Membership meeting on 1/7/2015.

January 12: The next meeting of the Education, Engagement and Outreach (EEO) Committee will be held on  January 12 from 5:30 to 7:00 pm at Health Services Building, Room 111.  

January 29: Knocking Down More Barriers! A Women’s Economic Security Summit takes place Thursday January 29 in St. Paul. Following the successful passage of the 2014 Women's Economic Security Act, the summit will discuss additional policies and actions necessary to break down barriers to work-family balance and economic security for women in Minnesota. The summit runs 8 a.m.-noon January 29 at the Kelly Inn, 161 St. Anthony Ave. Admission is free, but space is limited. .Register online. 

March 12: The next Labor Lunch wilol be held on March 12 from 12:00 to 1:00 pm. Location is TBD.  


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Paid Sick Leave: It’s Catching! How many workers in our nation benefit from paid sick leave? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 61 percent of all workers in the private sector do. That’s appalling but not surprising.  It’s just another consequence of the assault on unions by corporations and political extremists.  Declining union membership means nearly four out of 10 private-sector workers come to work sick – or don’t get paid. The picture is noticeably different for state and local government workers, where union membership is stronger. For decades, AFSCME helped raise workplace standards for all public service workers. Today, nine out of 10 workers in state and local government receive paid sick leave and, of those who belong to a union, it’s nearly everyone – 97 percent. Employees shouldn’t have to risk their health to do their jobs. A healthy employee is a productive one. That attitude appears to be catching.

After prolonged debate, $1.1 trillion spending bill clears Senate! The bill’s passage in a rare weekend session eliminates the threat of a government shutdown and came after days of acrimonious debate on Capitol Hill over the omnibus agreement. The Senate approved a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill Saturday night to fund most of the federal government through the next fiscal year. A small group of conservatives, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), had tried to block debate on the bill by raising concerns with Obama’s immigration policy, forcing a marathon weekend session. The move infuriated their colleagues, particularly Republicans who complained that forcing senators to stay in session produced nothing positive for the GOP and only helped Democrats in their bid to approve a final batch of Obama’s nominees for government posts. Read more

Shut up and work: The question of free speech on the job! "Discussing political views is not advisable." This 1905 rule for Iowa teachers apparently also applies to Delta Air Lines workers in 2014. The Story County, Iowa, teaching contract was explicit in saying teachers should not talk politics — or loiter in ice cream parlors, play cards, dance, or indulge in "undue use of cosmetics." While the code of conduct for teachers seems antiquated and laughable, the continuing right of employers to control workers' speech and conduct, on and off the job, is no laughing matter. Read more

State Expects $1 Billion Surplus! Minnesota’s string of good economic news continued Dec. 4, with state economists projecting a budget surplus of $1.037 billion. The anticipated surplus means there will be no need to cut jobs or state services. Instead, the surplus means money actually will be available to meet priorities when legislators convene in January. Minnesota Management and Budget expects a $556 million surplus in the current budget, which ends June 30. That is $528 million more than anticipated when the Legislature adjourned in May.  The bigger surplus is the result of lower-than-expected spending and higher-than-expected revenue – primarily from income and sales taxes. By law, a third of this surplus will be placed in reserves as a rainy-day fund. MMB also projects an additional surplus of $637 million for the 2016-2017 budget, based on current revenue and spending patterns. Combined with this year’s balance, MMB anticipates a total surplus of $1.037 billion for the next two-year budget. That’s despite inflation and the belief that U.S. economic growth will not be as robust as it has been. MMB will release an updated forecast in late February. That forecast will provide the final numbers that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature work with as they craft their revenue and spending plans for 2016-2017. ~ AFSCME Council 5

House Passes Bill that Provides Retroactive, Mostly Business Tax Breaks! The House voted 378 to 46, with overwhelming bipartisan support, to approve a one year, retroactive package of “tax extenders.”  The bill (H.R. 5771) would extend more than 50 different tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013 from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014.  The overall package costs $44.7 billion in lost tax revenues (over 10 years), which would increase the federal debt significantly. AFSCME supports closing other federal corporate tax loopholes to offset these lost revenues.  Nearly all of the tax provisions and the overall cost are from granting tax breaks to businesses, including research and development and “bonus depreciation” credits.  AFSCME strongly opposes many of these business tax breaks because they are bad policy and costly.  For example, the rule that allows multinational corporations to defer paying taxes on income earned overseas is one of the reasons General Electric paid, on average, only a 1.8% effective U.S. federal tax rate over 10 years.  AFSCME supports some of the tax extenders for individuals, including the federal tax deduction for state and local sales tax; the federal tax exclusion for employer-sponsored mass transit commuter benefits, and the federal tax exclusion for mortgage debt forgiveness. While House GOP leaders preferred a more costly package, last week the White House threatened to veto a larger $400 billion bill, which included several outrageously expensive permanent tax breaks for businesses. The White House was concerned about the enormous cost. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said: "An extender package that makes permanent expiring business provisions without addressing tax credits for working families is the wrong approach, at the expense of middle-class families." House GOP leaders promoted the shorter one-year bill in response to this veto threat. ~ AFSCME

Attacks Have Begun on President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration Reform! Barely waiting for the ink to dry on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform that he signed on November 20, this week the House passed a bill that would negate his actions, and 18 states filed a lawsuit challenging them.  The “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014” (H.R. 5759), sponsored by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), passed on a largely party-line vote of 219 to 197.  Only three Democrats voted in favor – Reps. Collin Peterson (MN), John Barrow (GA) and Mike McIntyre (NC).  Seven House GOP members voted against the bill.  H.R. 5759 has no chance of becoming law because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) vowed he will not take up this bill, and President Obama would veto it if it came across his desk.  It is evident that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) allowed this purely symbolic vote to give his tea party wing an opportunity to vent their anti-reform sentiments.  As AFSCME explained in our letter (view letter on AFSCME’s website) that urged House members to vote against H.R. 5759, President Obama’s actions were fully within his constitutional executive powers, and our economy and all workers would suffer if the President was prohibited from using prosecutorial discretion in carrying out our country’s immigration laws. The lawsuit challenging President Obama’s immigration reform executive actions is led by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on behalf of Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.  It is debatable within legal circles whether states have the right, or “standing,” to bring this lawsuit.  A federal district court judge dismissed an earlier lawsuit brought by the state of Mississippi that challenged President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012.  That case has been appealed and could reach the U.S. Supreme Court. ~ AFSCME


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