Less than 24 hours before their strike notice ended, the Hastings food service workers rallied at City Hall on Feb. 6 in one final appeal to the district before hitting the picket line. Joining them in solidarity were union representatives from Education Minnesota and community members.
The group, made up of 35 workers represented by Service Employees Industrial Union (SEIU) Local 284, filed their 10-day strike notice on Jan. 26 as negotiations with the district for better wages and benefits have gained little traction. The negotiations have been ongoing since the food service workers contract expired this past June.
Hastings Superintendent Robert McDowell said that the district has prepared to weather the strike by instituting a limited menu featuring bagged lunches and breakfasts. He said that the district expects student drop-offs and pick-ups to be impacted by the strike, and that the district is working with law enforcement to ensure safe access.
Kelly Gibbons, executive director for SEIU Local 284, kicked off the proceedings at the rally by restating the group’s intent to strike on the morning of Feb. 7. In her opening statement, Gibbons called out the district, claiming that they have attempted to settle negotiations with a one-off payment.
“Regardless of what you are going to hear, the district has offered them a one-time amount of money, but it's the same thing that they were offered in November, and the numbers offered in November weren’t good enough. I’m so proud of these food service workers because they have dug their heels in and they’re demanding a fair contract,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons said the workers have been offered a 2.1% bump to their wages, which equates to approximately $0.35. Given the rise of inflation, Gibbons doesn’t believe that the money being put on the table by the district is equitable, particularly when compared to the 13.87% raise doled out to Superintendent McDowell over the next three years of his new contract extension.
“This is something that is hard, and it is scary to do, but at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to stand for what you believe in. When the superintendent is getting golden parachutes and 7 weeks of vacation, paid out if he doesn’t use it, that’s real money in his pocket, 40-some cents is not real money in these folks pockets,” Gibbons said.
In an energetic address, Education Minnesota President Denise Specht cemented her organization’s support for the food service workers during the rally. Education Minnesota is a union that represents nearly 90,000 educators across the state.
“I want to leave no doubt to these workers, and to this school district, that Education Minnesota stands in solidarity with them. Through thick and thin we are here for you,” Specht said.
Specht commended the food service workers for their commitment to their jobs and the children they served during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst all of the uncertainty, the food service workers answered the call to ensure students continued to stay fed.
“Let’s not forget the heavy lifting they did three years ago during the pandemic. What was the one thing we had to figure out before we could close schools down? It was how to feed the children, and these workers did it,” Specht said.
With the strike set to begin at 7:30 a.m. at the Hastings Middle School on Feb. 7, Specht said that the district will learn just how important the food service workers are to their operations.
“This school district will not run without them, and we are about to see that happen now,” Specht said.
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