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 eeandoaction@gmail.com