St. Louis County, Minnesota will hire 30 additional workers in its Public Health and Human Services Department and Initial Intervention Unit, to help deal with staffing shortages and heavy caseloads, following protests by AFSCME Local 66 (Council 5) members.
“We’re very happy that we’re getting new workers,” said Kelly Crow, a child protection social worker in Hibbing. “There’s a huge need, not only in our department but in other departments. This is a good start.”
“It’s not the solution, it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” added Local 66 Pres. Dennis Frazier. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Commissioners acted after more than 60 AFSCME members and county workers marched in Virginia and Hibbing, carrying signs saying, “Understaffed, underserved.” They drew attention to how staffing shortages and heavy caseloads are hurting workers and the children and families they serve. AFSCME members also met directly with some county commissioners, attended board meetings and screened board candidates for worker-friendly values.
“A lot of people have gotten involved in making change and realizing it’s up to us to do that,” Crow said.
As reported by the Duluth News Tribune, staffing shortages have gotten so serious the county’s new head of Public Health and Human Services quit after just two months, citing in part a lack of resources. In northwest Minnesota, Children and Family Services workers must deal with a shortage of affordable housing, layoffs and factory shutdowns.
“We’re fifth in population but first in many categories you don’t want to finish first in, like opioid addiction,” Frazier said. “We’ve got 800 kids in foster care. Referrals are up 45 percent. We’ve been understaffed and overwhelmed for years.”
When workers learned the county was hiring more people, there was a sense of relief, said financial worker Jessica Anderson, a member of the Local 66 Executive Board and part of the Next Wave Minnesota group of young AFSCME members.
“It was such a load off. I just hope it helps relieve some of that ‘Oh my God’ crisis mode. I hope we can help the community in a more timely and accurate manner,” Anderson said.
Financial worker Kathy Vake believes every area of Public Health and Human Services lacks enough staff. When she started working here, she and her desk partner shared a caseload of 600. Now they’re at 1,100.
Local 66 plans to keep pushing for more hiring and less outsourcing to better serve children and their families. “I’m grateful for the help the county has given us, but they just need to keep doing it,” said Vake.(Photo by Kathy Vake)
“Coups de main” is a Cajun phrase that means lending a helping hand to community members in their time of need. AFSCME Volunteer Member Organizers (VMOs) recently had an opportunity to show their “coups de main,” by helping lift Louisianans in need in flood-ravaged Baton Rouge.
Ina LaBorde, AFSCME Council 17 Council representative and her daughter, Lyn Ray, Catholic Student Organization director at Louisiana State University at Alexandria (LSUA) wanted to find a way to make a concrete and meaningful impact for their fellow Louisianans who are now piecing together their lives. More than 40,000 people across 20 parishes in the Baton Rouge area were affected, days after heavy rainfall led to the historic flooding.
Ray believed she could contribute to relief efforts in Baton Rouge by delivering items that people depend on from day to day: goods like toiletries, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, and comfort items like new bedding, clean socks — even some sweet tea.
But Ray knew should couldn’t do it alone. She would need a dedicated crew of people to power her vision. That’s when LaBorde sprang to action and tapped a source that she knew could depend on: VMOs. And they eagerly lent a hand.
Approximately 40 VMOs, members and other volunteers assembled at the LSUA Catholic Student Center to unload trucks and sort donated items to deliver to the St. Vincent de Paul shelter in Denham Springs in Livingstone Parish, an area hard-hit by the floods.
Cleaning items and supplies will be delivered to the Greenwell Springs neighborhood in East Baton Rouge Parish to help clean up flooded homes that still maintained their structural integrity. Residents there still face a big clean-up effort, including disposing destroyed furniture and other items.
“I was very excited to be involved with something so important to the members and the community,” said Sheila Conroy, an AFSCME VMO from New York.
Sheryl Lilya, an AFSCME VMO from Minnesota, was also excited about her involvement in the action.
“Seeing the amount of giving and being able to help in any way was wonderful,” Lilya said.
Ray expressed deep appreciation for the hard work of the VMOs throughout the afternoon to help Louisianans emerge stronger after the flood’s devastation.
“I can’t thank you enough,” Ray said. “We couldn’t handle this ourselves.”
To donate to victims of the Louisiana flooding, you can contribute to the AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund.
This year, we recognize African-American women’s Equal Pay Day today, August 23. This marks the symbolic day that the earnings of African-American women will catch up to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts’ earnings from last year.
We use the latest Census Bureau figures on earnings to calculate the wage gaps for women, including Latinas, mothers, and African-American women. And in 2014 (the latest available data), African-American women earned 60.5 cents for every $1 her white, non-Hispanic male counterpart earned.
Translation? African-American women have to work nearly eight months, or 238 days into the next year, to earn as much as white, non-Hispanic men did in the previous year alone. And based on today’s wage gap, that means African-American women would lose a staggering $877,480 over the course of a 40-year career compared to white, non-Hispanic men.
So, yes, when we compare all women to all men, Equal Pay Day is in April. But we must acknowledge that African-American women face particularly steep and difficult obstacles when it comes to achieving equal pay. That’s why today we’ll be joining with our allies around the country to call for an end to the wage gap, particularly for African-American women. Want to join in? Make sure to use the hashtag #BlackWomensEqualPay on your social channels and join us for a Twitter storm on August 23rd, from 2-3 PM EST.