MAPE members fight for and win $2500 bonuses at MDH

Publish Date

While COVID impacted all Minnesotans and state workers, one agency has paved the way to more recognition of their work which left workers no escape from the virus that wreaked havoc on personal lives and day-to-day work at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

After more than two years of pandemic response, expanded workloads and blurred lines between work and life balance, MAPE MDH Meet and Confer leaders started to notice employees were burning out and needing more from agency leadership. 

“We were hearing from a lot of members that people were burnt out and not feeling recognized, so we decided to ask the membership what meaningful recognition would look like and what they needed to start recovering from all of this,” said Jen Palm, MAPE Meet and Confer Chair at MDH.  

The team launched a survey of all MAPE-represented employees in the agency, asking about their pandemic response, reassignment, general welfare and what kind of compensation or recuperation would make them feel recognized at work. 

harrilyn Helgertz,  MDH Meet and Confer member

“MDH folks were hanging by a thread. They wanted recognition and needed recuperation,” said Sharrilyn Helgertz, MDH meet and confer member and Local 601 membership secretary. “We gathered actionable data and presented the results to Commissioner (Jan) Malcolm, who deferred to HR.” 

When Human Resources staff didn’t act, the Meet and Confer team shared the results with the 650 members who took the survey, and 150 of them showed up to a meeting about next steps. 

“Leadership became interested after that,” Helgertz said. “They took it in, seriously, but didn’t make any promises or proposals for next steps.” 

A recognition workgroup formed and that core set of MAPE members brainstormed ideas and made sure proposed solutions would benefit everyone at MDH. They came up with a proposal that asked for a special bank of hours for time off and a step increase or one-time cash bonus if topped out for all MAPE employees at MDH. Leadership countered with an incentive MOU with no details other than it gave the agency full discretion in how it was applied. 

“Given the size of our problem, we didn’t want discretionary. We wanted equitable and equal across the board,” Palm said. “We asked members to write to the commissioner and share their experiences working at MDH during the pandemic. It put a personal touch on this and showed how serious we were and how necessary this recognition was.” 

Nearly 50 members wrote heartbreaking, gut-wrenching stories about putting work before their own wellbeing, missing out on milestones at home and foregoing farewells to loved ones who were passing. 

After that MDH countered with a proposal that would give $2,500 to veteran employees and $1,500 to those hired in the past two years. Knowing the goal was an equal and equitable benefit for all MAPE employees, Meet and Confer leaders brought MDH’s proposal to the 650 engaged members to gauge their response and interest. The big group agreed – everyone should receive the same bonus for their sacrifices during COVID, regardless of tenure or classification. So MAPE countered with the bonus for all. 

So when leadership countered with $2,500 across the board, but cut out temporary unclassified (TU), the group had another decision to make: accept the deal or fight for TU workers to be included. 

“I’m super proud of our colleagues; they chose to keep fighting for TU and in the end, we won that bonus for all MAPE employees at MDH,” Helgertz said. 

While the one-time bonus pay, expected to hit MDH paychecks on Dec. 30, was a win made possible by committed members who wouldn’t let up, all involved acknowledge there is still work to be done to make recuperation a reality for MDH staff. 

“Management did recognize some of the root causes of our burnout aren’t addressed with this, and they are committed to continuing to work on this to fix the systemic issues,” Palm said.  

“I want our people to know we haven't forgotten about those who said rest and recuperation was their number one thing, desperate for time to recover and heal mentally,” Helgertz added. “That need is just as important as others’ who needed compensation. We're still taking that on." 

Upcoming contract negotiations, supplemental negotiations and ongoing Meet and Confers offer continued opportunities for members at all agencies across Minnesota to get involved and organize for change in the workplace. 

“This really highlighted the power we have as individual members. It was nice for people to realize they weren’t alone in what they were suffering through this pandemic, and it was rewarding to see that a small action like sending an email really can help when you do it in mass,” Palm said. “We need to keep the momentum going and keep everyone active and engaged to get the best contract in this cycle." 

“We couldn’t do it without our members taking the initial risk to sign onto that proposal,” Helgertz said. “Support and engagement are essential for us to win anything.” 

If you’re interested in getting involved in upcoming contract negotiations, reach out to your local negotiations representative and ask about MAPE’s Contract Action Teams.