Labor disputes gain visibility across Twin Cities metro

Labor disputes gain visibility across Twin Cities metro

Labor disputes gain visibility across Twin Cities metro

There’s been a surge in labor activism in the metro, with union members at odds with their employers.

From education to health care and public works, the lack of agreement has led to protests, pickets and demonstrations.

“Workers are fed up,” says John Budd, a labor expert at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. “I think they’re tired of having what they see as too little influence.”

It’s been a collective bargaining roller-coaster ride.

In recent weeks, there have been teacher rallies in Minneapolis, a one-day strike by nursing home workers and picketers detained during a janitor’s strike at the airport.

“A really tight labor market right now, but with all the short staffing, you’re also seeing that wage compression issue,” explains Riecher Denmark, the contract organizer with SEIU Local 284, which represents 10,000 workers statewide.

Workers and their unions have been asking for higher wages and better benefits, among other things.

But at least some employers are saying they don’t have the money.

Minneapolis Public Schools points to a budget deficit.

Monarch Healthcare, which runs nursing homes, says it would bankrupt them.

Still, union activity is becoming increasingly visible in this economic tug-of-war.

“Cost of living keeps going up,” Budd notes. “Workers are just frustrated, and so there’s a lot of activity for that reason.”

He says this could be the beginning of an organized labor rebound.

But Budd points out that times have changed.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, about one-third, or 33% of the nation’s workforce was unionized.

Now, he says, it’s about 6%.

Still, Budd says, there are rumblings.

“There is sort of a mini upsurge,” he explains. “We’ve seen Starbucks, we’ve seen organizing on Amazon, lots of labor activity like we’ve been talking here.”

That includes 78 paraeducators in the Rocori School District, outside St. Cloud — who recently voted to authorize a strike unless they get what the union calls ‘a fair contract.’

“We’ve taken the steady 3% over all these years,” says Brenda Timm, who tutors special ed students.

Timm, who’s been with the Rocori District for 18 years, says her $25,000 salary isn’t keeping up with inflation.

“When the economy boomed and everything’s costing more, and we’re climbing at this slow and steady pace,” she says. “We’re not hitting where I feel we as paraeducators need to be at.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the Rocori School District for comment.

A school board member responded, only saying there will be a negotiation update during the next board meeting on Monday.

The union says the next bargaining session with the district will be on March 21.