Negotiations between the Independent School District 200 (ISD 200) and the Service Employees International Union 284 (SEIU 284) have all but stalled since the last update on December 19th, 2022.
“We have had one meeting since then, and there has been next to no progress,” said Hal Goetz, Union Steward for SEIU 284.
On Dec. 20th, Goetz had said to the Journal, “Just kind of given where we are right now, if Wednesday doesn’t go very well, we could file that notice sometime in January.”
The Wednesday Goetz was referring to was Wednesday, Dec. 21st, 2022, when the district and union representatives were scheduled to meet before the winter break. That was their last meeting, more than a month ago and here we are, it is January, and the union called a press conference.
Speaking live from outside the district office, three union members spoke to the media and on a live stream. They appealed to the community and the district to do what they feel is the right thing to do for the food service workers serving the students of five Hastings schools.
“Hi, my name is Cindy Pumphrey, and this is my 22nd year as a cook in the Hastings Public Schools. I’m ready to strike because the district is pushing a contract that would give me and other senior cooks a much lower raise than our newer coworkers. After 22 years of loyal service, the district only wants to raise my hourly wage 42 cents per year. I’m ready to strike because I’m tired of being told there’s never enough while the superintendent is going to make $20,000 more with his new contract this year. We’re not going to be divided this year. We’re going to get the respect we have earned. This year we will win the raises we deserve, whether we’ve been here 22 years or one week. I’m ready to strike. We’re ready to strike. We’ll see you on the picket line.”
“Hello, my name is Roxanne Beissel and this is my first year as a cook with Hastings Public Schools. Shortly after I was hired last spring, my fiancé’s father passed away and I applied to take one day of bereavement leave to attend his funeral. The Hastings School District said that because we weren’t married yet I was forced to use a combination of vacation time and unpaid leave to support my fiancé as he laid his father to rest. Now the school district has stopped its practice of automatically paying us whenever school is canceled for snow, in the middle of the snowiest winter in a decade. We want to do what we got these jobs to do, feed kids so they can learn. We cannot do that if we are worried about losing money every time it snows. This school district is picking on the workers in the lowest pay grades who work the fewest hours, just because they think they can. We are ready to strike because it’s just not right for the district to play games with workers, families, and their hours. We are ready to strike for the respect we need and deserve, and we hope you’ll join us.”
“Hello, my name is Laurie Potthoff. I’ve been with the school for six years at the Hastings Public Schools, we’re ready to strike and get the contract we need because we’ve had enough and are tired of those getting paid the most always more. If you’re watching this, we need you to help push the school board to do the right thing and start treating our lowest paid employees as well as their highest. Call the school board members and tell them to put more money on the table for their food service workers. Go to SEIU.MN/hastings to send them and the superintendent an email and share this video on social media. This administration and this school board needs to know that our community wants the workers who feed their kids to be treated with the respect they deserve. We hope to avoid a strike, if possible, but if we cannot we need you to join us on the picket line and make sure your support is known, thank you.” “Hi, my name is Kelly Gibbons, I am the Executive Director for SEIU Local 284. I’m here today to support these workers and talk about their issues. This is happening all across the state of Minnesota. We can no longer attract and retain employees. For these workers, the district cries poverty and then they slap them in the face and give the superintendent tons of money in his wages and benefits, when the lowest working people are living in poverty. We have staff shortages everywhere. We have safety issues. It is a crisis, and the kids are the ones who are going to fall through the cracks. Today is historic, because many of Hastings Public Schools have never voted to strike. These are unprecedented times. These were essential workers who came to the aid of the schools, when COVID hit. They have risked their health; they have risked their family’s health and they came here in support of the schools and the children. I am asking the community to please stand with these workers and demand that the superintendent give them the living wages that they deserve. Thank you very much.” The importance of this announcement is based on Minnesota laws and public employee’s unions and strikes. Public employees can strike but, because it directly affects a public service, there are steps that need to take place. Many of those steps have happened and today, the filing of their intent to strike is the next piece. Now, there is a mandatory 10-day ‘cooling off period’ where both sides can still negotiate and hopefully come to an agreement both sides deem fair. If that does not happen, the earliest the union could strike is February 7th.
According to Goetz, the biggest gap in the negotiations is wages.
“There is some smaller stuff around snow days, bereavement and insurance, but wages are the tallest order,” said Goetz. “Insurance can always be better, and we are still apart on family insurance and dental insurance.”
Sara Rapp, a cook at the High School and SEIU Local 284 bargaining team member, shared why school staff are ready to take this action: “We’re united and we’re ready to strike if the district won’t pay us what we’re worth and stop nickel-anddiming us about our working hours and snow days.”
If it were to happen, how will the strike affect families? “The district has to find a way without the people who know how the kitchens actually work, without the people who know what kids get. What special dietary restrictions are there. The district has to find a way to get kids good enough food for them to learn without our workers in the kitchens. They say they can get it done, but I think that our workers are pretty confident that they do important enough work that I think there will be significant differences and disruptions if [a strike] has to happen.”
If the strike does happen, the kitchens will be open normally on Monday, February 6th but the normal workers will not return to their jobs until the strike is over and you can expect to see picket lines starting the morning of Tuesday, February 7th. Given there are five different public schools in Hastings, it is unclear at this moment if there will be smaller groups at each location or if they will focus on being one large group and move from location to location.
Because of the picket lines, there may be some disruptions for parents and families during the picking up and dropping off of students. Minnesota law does generally prohibit an individual from obstructing access to district property during a strike, but there is also a law requiring motorists to exercise caution when entering or leaving a place of employment when there is a labor dispute in progress. Motorists are required to come to a full stop when entering or leaving the premises. Picketers cannot stand in the property access and the picketers must be moving at a generally acceptable pace across the property accesses.
We reached out to Superintendent Dr. Robert McDowell for the district’s comments on the potential strike, here is his response: The district received formal notification that the Food Service employee group intends to strike. Under Minnesota law, a union must provide the school district with at least ten days’ notice prior to commencing a strike. Our understanding is that they intend to commence a strike on February 7th. The purpose of this communication is to provide information regarding what a strike will mean for students and families.
Most importantly, the district is prepared to continue operations in the event of a strike. While school will remain in session, food service will obviously be impacted by a strike. One noticeable impact on you and your child will be fewer options for meals, and no ala carte offerings. The district will be serving bagged lunches and breakfasts during a strike. If a child requires a special diet, please contact Brittney Hirschauer at 651.480.7126. A sample menu will be posted as we get closer to the start of the strike at the following link: https://www.hastings.k12.mn. us/departments___services/Fo odService/menus Another area in which you may see some disruption involves the time it takes to drop off or pick up your child. While Minnesota law generally prohibits an individual from obstructing access to District property in the event of a strike, there is also a law requiring motorists to exercise caution when entering or leaving a place of employment, which includes coming to a full stop when entering or leaving the premises, where there is clear notice that a labor dispute is in progress. The district will be working with law enforcement to ensure that access to school sites takes place in a safe and orderly fashion if there is a strike and, if necessary, will provide additional information regarding procedures for entering or leaving school grounds at a later date.
Finally, I want to provide you with information about the status of negotiations with the Food Service group. The District and the Food Service group have been participating in mediation with the assistance of the Bureau of Mediation Services. We last met for a mediation session on December 21. Following that meeting, another mediation session was scheduled to take place on February 22. This meeting was scheduled in February due to the availability of the parties and the Bureau of Mediation Services mediators. We are extremely disappointed the union has chosen to strike because we were hoping the union was planning to provide a realistic counteroffer at the February 22 mediation. The district will continue its efforts to negotiate in good faith and remains hopeful that this situation will be resolved with the assistance of Bureau of Mediation Services mediators.
Due to the nature of mediation with the Bureau of Mediation Services, it is not appropriate for me to get into the details of what the district has offered in its mediation proposals. However, what I can say is that the district’s bargaining team has carefully examined internal and external comparables. When we look at external comparables, we look at the pay and benefits neighboring school districts provide their food service employees. When we look at internal comparables, we look at contract settlements involving other District employee groups. The offers the district has made to the Food Service group are consistent with what was offered to and accepted by other groups within our District as well as the compensation for comparable groups outside of the district.
Thank you in advance for your understanding as we work to prepare for the Food Service group to go on strike. We will continue to provide you updates as additional information becomes available.
Sincerely, Robert McDowell, Ed.D.
Superintendent What is clear is that the two sides are further apart than they would like to be, and negotiations are at a stressful point. On Jan. 30th, the two sides agreed to a mediation session scheduled for Feb. 2nd. If no agreement is reached, the food services staff would begin their strike on February 7. SEIU Local 284 represents 35 workers who ensure Hastings’ students are fed and supported so they can be ready to learn when they enter their classrooms.