Safe Haven ‘casual’ employees call for equal pay, time off

13 July 2023

DULUTH A few dozen union members picketed on Tuesday outside Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center to draw attention to their push for equal pay and paid time off for some workers.

“Casual” employees at the center for victims of domestic violence hope to win raises that would put their pay on par with full- and part-time staff, plus the ability to take time off without running afoul of a four-hour weekly work minimum. Picketers chanted “same job, same pay” as they marched in front of Safe Haven’s resource center on West First Street.

“The casual workers do the exact same work as the full- and part-time workers do,” Ken Loeffler-Kemp, a field representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, told the News Tribune. “They often work alone, and they perform the same duties and responsibilities.”

Full-time and part-time Safe Haven workers have been organized under AFSCME’s banner for decades. Casual workers agreed to do the same earlier this spring.

Union and nonprofit leaders met for a round of contract negotiations for casual workers in late May, and are scheduled to meet again next week.

Casual staff at Safe Haven don’t have a regimented schedule and work comparatively light hours. They fill gaps in the 24/7 shelter’s schedule left by full- and part-timers who are off.

“Our casual staff are considered our fill-in pool of advocates,” said Brittany Robb, Safe Haven’s executive director. “So when we have an open shift for whatever reason, they self-select to sign up for those shifts.”

Full- and part-timers’ starting pay is $19.06 per hour under a different contract between AFSCME and Safe Haven. Casuals are paid $18.75 per hour 31 fewer cents than their counterparts.

Casual employees are also expected to work at least four hours each week. That, Loeffler-Kemp said, can pose a problem: A casual worker who wants to take a vacation would need to navigate the weekly minimum or worry about possible repercussions, hence the push for time off of some variety, paid or unpaid, for casual staff.

Casuals can theoretically choose not to put themselves on Safe Haven’s work schedule, according to Joenah Sisson, one of the casual workers, but there’s a risk.

Another casual employee was nervous she’d be disciplined while she was grappling with the death of her mother, Sisson claimed, because there was no contract language that would protect her if she missed the four-hour mark.

“They (Safe Haven) were certainly very accommodating for her,” Sisson said, adding that the employee wasn’t disciplined. “But it’s mostly just so that other employees have that peace of mind in case of emergency.”

Robb emphasized that the nonprofit values its employees and supports them as they exercise their rights.

About five of Safe Haven’s approximately 30 current employees are casual. The positions are often held by students or people working second jobs.

Sisson, for instance, left a full-time job at Safe Haven to be an operations manager at another Duluth company, but has since returned as a casual employee there while maintaining her new job.

“I really missed that work. I really missed being able to serve the community,” Sisson said. “I saw that they were offering the casual positions again, and thought that it would be a great fit for me to reapply and be able to help out.”


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