Now in their fourth week on strike, the Hastings food service workers took their homemade signs and sat in on the school board’s regular meeting on March 1. 

Since Feb. 7, the 35 food service workers represented by Service Employees Labor Union (SEIU) Local 284 have been picketing at schools across the district to stake their claim for a better contract. 

Before filing into the meeting, the picketers held a rally just outside the Hastings Middle School grounds. They expressed their outrage at the school board for not addressing the strike on the agenda and instead ratifying a new contract for the district’s principals and approving a monument sign project with a total price tag of $364,300. 

"This is shameful. If addressing this strike isn't their top priority, what are these people even doing? Kids are eating cold lunches. We're hearing from parents the frustration of what their kids are facing, and the superintendent and school board either don't understand their jobs or are refusing to do them," Kelly Gibbons, executive director of SEIU Local 284, said. 

Hastings food service worker and SEIU Local 284 Steward Laurie Potthoff spoke on the financial struggles she and her coworkers have been facing and implored the school board to settle.

“It appears that the school board doesn’t care that last year’s workers faced 8% inflation. As the lowest paid workers, we have the toughest time making ends meet. When times are tough you don’t say that those with the least get the same as those with the most,” Potthoff said. “I don’t understand how these board members can believe that Hastings voters agree with them or would trust them this coming November.”

Negotiations had come to a screeching halt until the district initiated talks with the union last week, culminating in a conversation between the two parties on Monday. Union representatives said that they offered a compromise to end the strike during their discussion, but the district has yet to respond with an offer or arrange for another meeting. 

“It dropped the difference between us from about $170,000 to $100,000,” said SEIU Local 284 representative Hal Goetz. 

The district has maintained that the contract they have offered to the food service workers is the best they can muster. The offer in its entirety can be seen on the school board's meeting minutes from their Feb. 6 meeting. 

“The district stands behind its last, best and final offer, which would provide existing employees hourly rates between $15.69 and $29.64 during the 2023-2024 school year in addition to $1,200 in retention payments for workers who have been with the district since July 1, 2022,” said Superintendent Robert McDowell on Feb. 17.

In a statement on Thursday, the district rebuffed the union's claims that they broached a compromise during their meeting on Monday. The district said that they didn't actually bring any new ideas forward and continued with their framework, adding that the union has not validated their demands with "concrete comparison data."

The food service workers will continue their strike on the public sidewalk on HWY 61 along Todd Field on Friday at 2 p.m., where Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison will make an appearance in solidarity.

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