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Hastings school food service workers go on strike

Members of SEIU Local 284, who work for the Hastings school district, hit the picket line early Tuesday, Feb. 7 with no planned end date.

HASTINGS, Minn. — More and more workers are hitting the picket line.

Nationwide, and right here in Minnesota, everyone from nurses and teachers to Starbucks and Amazon employees has walked off the job in the last few years to demand more from their employers.

And that includes school food service workers in Hastings, who hit the picket line for a strike Tuesday morning. Workers told KARE 11's Cece Gaines that negotiations have stalled since they began June 9. 

The district says plans are in place to feed students during the work stoppage.

Ahead of the work stoppage, 35 workers rallied Monday night in front of Hastings City Hall. They're members of SEIU Local 284 who are working throughout the school district.  

"Their final offer was the same thing they offered in November and the members are like, 'It's just not good enough,'" said Kelly Gibbons. 

Gibbons says members start making about $13 an hour and that the district is only offering a 2.1% raise.

But Hastings Superintendent Robert McDowell cites tiered pay increases from 10% to 31% over the proposed two-year contract that would run through June 30, 2024. 

McDowell says the district is also offering what's called a "retention payment." He says that all employees hired on or before June 30, 2022, will receive a total of $1,200 in retention payments to be split into a one-time $600 payment to be made in each year of the contract. 

"There is a lot more people understanding that unions were created because workers didn’t feel like they had a voice or respected from their employer," said Gibbons.

"I think we're seeing a lot of frustration," said professor of law at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, David Larson. "When you’re getting a small raise and someone else is getting something far beyond something you ever dreamed about, yes, you’re going to be frustrated."

Larson acknowledges that wages are rising, but they're not keeping up with inflation. And working conditions only got worse during the pandemic.

"COVID-19 has really changed how people feel or how they will allow people to treat them," said Gibbons.

"If you don’t act collectively, there’s very little one can do negotiating with an employer," said Larson.

Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations reports the number of strikes in the United States rose almost 50% between 2021 and 2022. And Larson says public support for unions is around 70%, the highest it has been in decades, citing, in part, social media.

"It's so much easier now to learn what other workers are doing in other cities in the state, and around the country, so there's this heightened awareness because communication is so much faster and so much more thorough," said Larson.

The union says it plans to strike at 7:30 a.m. in front of the middle school with no end date in sight. When asked, the district wouldn't elaborate on how it will ensure students will get fed, the superintendent only writing, "We have a short term and long term plan for both meals and lunchroom coverages."

The PDF below outlines what the district calls its "last, best offer."


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