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Workers strike after Minnesota city rescinds contract offer at the last minute

Photo: AFSCME Council 65
Workers strike after Minnesota city rescinds contract offer at the last minute
By Ezra Kane Salafia and AFSCME Council 65 ·
Tags: Priorities
Workers strike after Minnesota city rescinds contract offer at the last minute
Photo: AFSCME Council 65

VIRGINIA, Minn.  – Members of AFSCME Local 454 (Council 65) in Minnesota went on strike early Wednesday after the Virginia City Council withdrew its “last, best, and final offer” before the workers could vote on it.

The city council’s bait-and-switch was just the latest in a string of disappointments for the workers during contract negotiations. The city refused to consider the workers’ offers to help fix the budget problems created by what the workers say is the city council’s financial mismanagement.

Despite the city’s growing demand for services, serious understaffing, and Local 454 members’ prior acceptance of deep budget cuts, the city refused to pass a levy to fund its operations. That tax would have shored up the budget and ensured that the citizens of Virginia continued to receive high quality services, AFSCME members say.

Instead, the city ignored staffing shortages and exacerbated the problem by cutting six positions staffed by Local 454 members, increasing the demand for overtime. Scrambling to reduce overtime costs, the city then announced it wouldn’t pay overtime in the weeks when workers had taken any sick, holiday, comp or vacation time off.

This isn’t the first year that workers have been asked to sacrifice to fix the city council’s financial mismanagement. Job cuts and increases in health insurance costs for workers have saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2020.

“They are asking us to bear responsibility for their own mismanagement,” said Jesse McIntyre, vice president of Local 454. “We will always need to put in extra hours to plow our roads, respond to emergencies and staff big events. This is what residents rightfully expect of our city. Yet, they’re demanding we work the same hours for less pay instead of making sure we have enough staff to reduce overtime costs. All this just to fix a budget problem they created.”

Members of the community and Local 454 came together to put pressure on the city council to keep working on a solution to budget woes. Rather than addressing that, members of the city council responded with stunts and heavy-handed attacks on citizens’ First Amendment rights.

City Councilor Julianne Paulsen brought a bucket of baby pacifiers to a recent public meeting,a stunt for which she later apologized. At the same meeting, with little opportunity for public debate, the city council passed an emergency ordinance banning picketing in large swaths of the city before quickly adjourning. The move was an attack on residents of Virginia’s freedom to publicly disagree with their government.

“I’ve never seen a city council so focused on demeaning its own workers the way Virginia’s has throughout this process. We have no other options left. We’ve tried everything, but after the way the city has treated us, we have to draw a line. We aren’t asking for a lot. We just want respect in a contract that isn’t 10 steps backwards,” said Scott DaRonco, president of Local 454.

The workers aren’t backing down. The vote to strike, conducted by secret ballot, was 100% in favor of striking. In fact, two nonmembers from the unit signed cards joining the union ahead of the vote in order to support the strike.

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