AFSCME Local is Like Family

1-3-2018
Kim Jorgensen (right) was able to be with her partner, Sam, during a life-threatening illness, thanks to her fellow AFSCME Local 34 members.
Kim Jorgensen (right) was able to be with her partner, Sam, during a life-threatening illness, thanks to her fellow AFSCME Local 34 members.

”We had to go to the ER for a breathing issue. We thought it was pneumonia, we’d just get treatment and be able to leave. They wanted to observe and do at least an overnight hospitalization.

It got worse very quickly and resulted in respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress. Sam was put on a ventilator. My partner was in ICU for four weeks.

It was really scary. Sam almost died. I would be in there for several hours a day. Are you too warm? And then use a cool cloth. Also my partner didn’t have to be scared to be alone in the hospital. Since my partner is transgender, it’s a vulnerable position to be in in the hospital. You’re not sure what treatment you’ll get. I did a lot of advocating.

It was about seven or so weeks of being hospitalized. The hospital had to do a tracheotomy and a bunch of weaning to get Sam off the ventilator, followed by physical and occupational therapy. It was very intense.

I knew I couldn’t try to work full time or even part time during that critical period. Especially with child protection, it’s not an easy job to divide your attention between something very serious in your life and the families we serve. They both require a lot of emotional investment.

IB ImageI did not quality for FMLA at the federal level. My partner and I were not married yet.

But the Hennepin County policy extends to a significant other. First you use up your Paid Time Off. What I had to do was request people to donate their PTO to me. It was not paid by the employer. I would have not been paid at all if people hadn’t donated leave time. And because that leave was granted, I wasn’t going to get fired, my job was protected. People basically took over my caseload.

Because of their donations, I was paid the entire time for two months! I used four or more weeks of donated PTO. People were very, very generous.

I’m astounded. I wish I could know who everybody was. Someone donated a whole week, 40 hours! I’m so deeply grateful. When I was done with my leave, I emailed I was coming back. They said you still have 159 hours. That’s wild.

I feel honored.

Having the love and support of my union and coworkers helped. I think being involved in the union, people donate because they see me, we’re working together on the board. Even though we don’t work directly together, it’s a connection.

My partner is doing well now. We’re just really grateful.”