AFSCME Members Fight Back at AMRTC

Last week, members of AFSCME Local 1307 joined with members of MNA and MAPE at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center (AMRTC) for an informational picket. Workers at AMRTC stood together to protest unsafe working conditions at the facility and to hold management accountable to protecting workers on the job.

“We have a lot of dedicated health workers here who are committed to doing a great job serving our patients, said Lance Lemieux, the outgoing president of AFSCME Local 1307. “But we want to make sure we have the tools to do it, and that we’re safe in doing it.”

Worker safety has been a problem for years. Security is necessary because AMRTC treats a diverse group of patients – including some who are inmates from correctional facilities across the state. Though most patients at AMRTC, even those from correctional facilities, are not a threat to staff, a few do pose a threat based on clear patterns of aggression. AMRTC’s administration has historically refused to address and mitigate the clear and obvious threats to staff.

This problem came to a head when the Anoka Police Department ended its agreement with AMRTC to provide security for the facility. After the agreement with Anoka Police ended, AMRTC did not replace the armed guards on site. Instead, management left staff to call the front desk in emergency situations. When situations can escalate to violence in moments, making a phone call to someone located in another part of the facility is logistically impossible for most employees.

“Safety here at Anoka is a huge issue,” Lemieux said. “Our clientele has changed drastically – we have corrections clients due to overcrowding at St. Peter (Minnesota Security Hospital) and things like that. We have clients that we’re not necessarily trained to handle… this place was not designed for that.”

According to an interview between DHS officials and FOX9 News, there have been 28 staff injuries due to patient aggression since AMRTC stopped providing security in the facility. A violent attack last month was the final straw for AMRTC workers. In early May, a patient assaulted a nurse while she was providing him care. She was rendered unconscious and spent over a week in the hospital recovering.

Despite escalating violence at AMRTC, management has refused to even draft a plan to address the problem. AMRTC has repeatedly dismissed substantiated concerns from staff – even while injury rates increased. Management’s refusal to engage with staff about their safety concerns left them with no other option but a public action.

So on May 29, workers from three unions joined together to picket outside AMRTC to raise awareness about the dangerous working conditions inside the facility. Amid honks of support from passing traffic, workers chanted, “Safety now, security always”. Several elected officials from the Anoka area – from both sides of the partisan aisle – visited the picket to learn more and show their support for workers.

"We’re taking care of people that really need to be taken care of, right? But let’s get some safety in place," said Sen. John Hoffman, a former AFSCME member and State Senator who represents nearby Champlin. "Good intentions aside, let’s see some action."

Commissioner Tony Lourey was also among the officials who spoke with AMRTC management and staff. He said in a statement, "I met this week with staff and labor representatives at AMRTC who are raising concerns about safety. Their insights and participation are essential to maintaining a safe workplace for staff and patients alike. Safety is a shared priority, and I’m confident that together we can address those concerns in a meaningful way."

After a full day of marching, workers will continue to push their employers to hear their concerns and make meaningful changes to ensure their safety. For workers who face possible injury every day at AMRTC, the informational picket gave them a much-needed mental and emotional boost. 

“It’s a great thing, how powerful it is, that everyone can come together and have that common goal,” said Lemieux. “I’m just stoked to show the power of people coming together.”

Workers deserve better than what we’re getting from AMRTC. Do your part to stand with our labor siblings and stand with them as they continue their fight for safety and dignity in the workplace.