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After outcry, St. Paul says librarians, parks workers don't have to burn PTO days

"Employees should not be forced to drain existing sick or vacation accruals,” the workers' union said.

"Employees should not be forced to drain existing sick or vacation accruals,” the workers' union said. Courtney Deutz

Last week, workers at St. Paul's public libraries and the city’s parks and rec department were sent home after their jobs were ground to a halt by coronavirus.

For the interim, workers were advised to use their PTO or sick time to bridge the gap. Meanwhile, the city prepared, if necessary, to lay off employees by April 18 in order to make up for a massive drop in fee-based services, like those parks and rec programs.

In response, AFSCME 1482, the union representing many of these displaced workers, put together a petition and asked the public to take the matter up with Mayor Melvin Carter and the city council.

“Employees should not be forced to drain existing sick or vacation accruals and employees have the right to save them for when they do fall ill or need to take time off in the future,” the petition said. Those hours weren’t a “viable solution” for the disruption caused by the pandemic.

This week’s news was a bit better.

“Subsequently, on review by the administration, a decision was made to provide paid time for affected employees [who are unable to work due to facility closures],” city spokesperson Lisa Hiebert said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. She added that affected workers were reportedly able to return yesterday – either in person or online.

A representative from the union was unavailable to comment on Wednesday, but a Tuesday update on the petition called the move a “victory.”

“We strongly believe it is because of our mobilization that we are able to return to work,” it said. By that point, over 4,000 people had signed on.

According to the Pioneer Press, St. Paul’s been adjusting day-to-day operations to navigate a workplace compromised by the threat of the virus. The floor of the Department of Safety and Inspections is covered in white tape, telling visitors how close to the counters they should actually stand.

Keepers at the Como Zoo are keeping the animals fed. City council members and board commissioners continue to meet online. Meanwhile, the libraries and rec facilities were supposed to remain closed to the public until at least Friday -- the night Walz’s shelter in place order takes effect.

For two weeks, Minnesotans are to stay home and refrain from socializing, limiting their movements to “essential services” like medical appointments or grocery runs. Our state is the 19th to try curbing the virus this way. 

Those found to be violating the order could be charged with a misdemeanor, and face a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.