Don't work for Free!
By Angel Gardner-Kocher (AFSCME Local 2822 Steward)
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.
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
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
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org