Retaliation, racism, and union busting

by Ali Fuhrman

Below are two speeches given at the June 13 commissioner meeting public forum, the first by Ali Fuhrman and the second by Kymberly Hafner. Fifteen workers from AFSCME Locals 2822 and 34 spoke against ongoing discrimination and union busting at Hennepin County. Despite the official end of the state of emergency and pandemic, the county refuses to return to in-person meetings with us. They are intimidating workers who speak out. Recently, two stewards of Local 2822 were terminated: Sue Olson and Tonicia Ambrose.

Sue Olson took a settlement, leaving the county in good standing with all her sick leave paid out, her 15-day suspension from 2022 paid in full, and maintain healthcare through the County until she is eligible for medicare. Sue was an amazing fighter for our union. Thank you Sue, we will miss you! Tonicia is still fighting for her job. Four women on her team are engaged in a fight against the hostile and racist behavior of their manager, Trina Bartok

Ali Fuhrman’s speech

My name is Ali Fuhrman and I’m the President of AFSCME Local 2822, representing 1200 clerical workers in Hennepin County. I’m a resident of Minneapolis.

Two months ago we came to you to blow the whistle on nothing short of a scandal, one that continues to unfold in Health and Human Services. Thousands of desperate residents, with limited access to technology, limited literacy, are still struggling to access county benefits because management refuses to provide meaningful in-person services. And our workers, clerical and the limited case workers in the building, are taking the heat. They are yelled at, their lives threatened because people this organization professes to care about aren’t getting what they need.

In April these workers came to you. The union came to you expecting change. That you would put your commitment to disparity reduction into practice and prioritize our most vulnerable residents and the workers who serve them. That has not happened. Instead of fixing a broken system, Health and Human Services management has launched a full-out attack on the union and its leaders, particularly its Black leaders. And labor relations has done nothing but cover for them, initiating their own campaign to roll back our rights at labor management meetings and our right to meet with management face to face.

Last month Health and Human Services manager Trina Bartok fired Local 2822 steward Tonicia Ambrose, who spoke at this very meeting two months ago, to share the hardships of residents and staff. Tonicia has been vocal at monthly labor management meetings where she insisted on the need for in-person services. Trina, who had no role in these meetings, routinely attended them to spy on Tonicia, despite protests from the union. That is what Trina does – she spies and micromanages her workers from the comfort of her home. She has made life a living hell for the workers she supervises, particularly the lives of Black women, four of whom are here today to support Tonicia and share their stories of discrimination under Trina.

Trina’s racist behavior is excused by Health and Human Services management and labor relations who are more than happy to have an internal critic silenced. They don’t want to talk about onsite services – they have made this explicitly clear over the past six months – and are attacking leaders, specifically Black women, and the union because we won’t drop it. Hennepin County management talks about diversity at the table but then bars Black workers from participating meaningfully in their unions. Their actions are promoting disparities and keeping the status quo of institutional racism and sexism alive and well for the thousands of workers who make the county run.

We are calling to:

  • Resume our in-person meetings with management
  • Reinstate Tonicia Ambrose
  • Fire Trina Bartok
  • End the retaliation, racism, and union busting!

Kymberly Hafner’s speech

My name is Kymberly Hafner. I’m a Hennepin County worker and union leader with AFSCME Local 2822.

It’s unfortunate that we have to be here again. Since bringing these human service department issues forward, Labor Relations has begun attacking the unions by attempting to limit our contractual right to labor management meetings, specifically because they don’t want to talk about their failed call-center model for human services.

After we raised this issue in December, the labor relations lead for Health and Human Services, Beth Belle Isles, unilaterally began shortening our monthly meetings without consensus from the locals. She has restricted access to meetings and withheld Teams links, and she has removed labor leaders mid-meeting, with topics still on the table, without consent or warning.

Labor Relations has been catering to work-from-home managers who have been refusing to meet workers onsite for historically in-person meetings. We know remote management is ineffective. We don’t have to look too far back at the controversy and harm done to workers from our absent, out-of-state former library director. The pattern continues today. It’s easy to ignore the desperate pleas of residents and workers while hiding behind a screen.

Workers deserve better than what Hennepin County administrators and Labor Relations are currently implementing. Do not forget that if you are DFL endorsed that the L stands for Labor. You have an obligation to investigate these severe workforce concerns. The President’s Policy Committee put the topic of Labor Relations Director Holland Atkinson’s behavior on the agenda for their meeting with David Hough. Hough refused to hear the concerns directly from union leaders and removed the agenda item entirely.

The call is coming from inside the house. Commissioners of Hennepin County: you need to address the direct harm workers are experiencing and the toxic environments managers are creating at the express directive from David Hough and Labor Relations. If coming to commissioner meetings is not effective, then we will go public to constituents.

We are calling to:

  • Resume our in-person meetings with management
  • Reinstate Tonicia Ambrose
  • Fire Trina Bartok
  • End the retaliation, racism, and union busting now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *