MINNEAPOLIS — *Editor's note: The above video originally aired March 9, 2022.
More than 700 workers involved in defending people who in most cases can't afford to hire a private attorney voted Thursday to authorize what would be an unprecedented strike in Minnesota.
The public defenders and staff, represented by Teamsters Local 320, rejected the latest contract offer from the Minnesota Board of Public Defense. The union and board now have 10 days to negotiate a settlement before the workers walk off the job.
The two sides have been haggling over pay disparities with other agencies, staffing levels and other issues. The public defenders say it's hurting their clients, most of whom are indigent and minorities.
“I voted to reject this last and final offer because it did not address remote work, health and safety language, and did not provide a wage opener," said Jill Nitke, public defense investigator of the Tenth Judicial District. "These issues are critical to helping us retain strong, qualified staff and ensuring we have a sufficient level of public defense employees to handle the extreme caseloads we are currently facing.”
The Board of Public Defense said in a statement it agrees that public defenders are underpaid and offices understaffed, but the board is “constrained in its negotiations by the resources provided by the state to provide these constitutionally mandated services across Minnesota."
Minnesota is one of 26 states that funds its public defense department at the state level.
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