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UPDATE: Pequot Lakes School Board shares information regarding union's vote to authorize a strike

Union representing custodians, paraeducators, secretaries, food service and nurses files 10-day strike notice

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Pequot Lakes School District support staff members and their supporters attended the Pequot Lakes School Board meeting Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, in the high school auditorium to ask for increased wages.
Dan Determan / Echo Journal
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PEQUOT LAKES — Custodians, paraeducators, secretaries, food service and nurses represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 284 voted unanimously Wednesday, Sept. 28, to authorize a strike to ensure a fair contract.

It was never our hope for these staff members to have to vote to strike, but the district and school board left us no other choice.
Carrie Chiodi, a secretary at Eagle View Elementary School

The union filed a 10-day notice Thursday, Sept. 30, and workers could strike Tuesday, Oct. 11.

“It was never our hope for these staff members to have to vote to strike, but the district and school board left us no other choice,” Carrie Chiodi, a secretary at Eagle View Elementary School, said in a news release.

SEIU Local 284 membership has grown in the district after the pandemic and record inflation has put overwhelming stress on school employees, a news release from the union said.

We wanted to be valued with a living wage.
Tom Nelson, a Pequot Lakes High School custodian

Many employees are dealing with a staff shortage and having to fill empty positions with extra shifts. Hourly wages have failed to keep up with inflation over the last few years and the bargaining team is looking to remedy the situation, the release said.

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"We wanted to be valued with a living wage,” said Tom Nelson, a custodian at Pequot Lakes High School.

The group brings together 85 workers and the members have agreed to leave the strike open-ended until a fair contract is reached. These workers are so essential to school operations that it will be unlikely for the school to continue in-person during this time, the release said.

The two sides have bargaining sessions scheduled next week, including Monday, Oct. 3. Negotiation sessions are closed to the public.

More details on the strike will be released closer to the strike date, the news release said.

Read more about the school board and union
Staff has received 52 cents in pay increases over the past four years, elementary secretary Carrie Chiodi said.
Our jobs are rarely easy, but we chose them to touch students’ lives
We are respectfully reaching out to the Pequot Lakes School Board in an attempt to come to a reasonable and mutual agreement that honors who we are and what we do for our community, school and especially our students.

The Pequot Lakes School Board shared the following with district staff and families Sept. 29 regarding contract negotiations between the district and SEIU Local 284, also saying there will be further updates in the coming days.

Background information

The district and Union Local 284, which represents paraprofessionals, custodians, food service workers, clerical and health office staff, participated in a mediation session Tuesday, Aug. 23, and Wednesday, Sept. 21. The sessions were led by a mediator from the Bureau of Mediation Services.

The mediation sessions lasted a total of 12 hours, with progress being made, although no tentative agreement was reached. Another mediation session is being scheduled.

Current status

The Local 284 Union has filed an intent to strike with the Bureau of Mediation Services. This starts a 10-day period for further contract negotiations between the union and district in an effort to avoid a strike.

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The first possible date for a potential strike is Tuesday, Oct. 11. Even though a strike is authorized, it does not mean that there will be a strike, nor is a strike in the best interest of our students, families or staff.

Looking forward

The Pequot Lakes School Board is committed to negotiating in good faith while honoring staff with competitive compensation increases and being financial stewards for taxpayers. If the members of Local 284 choose to strike, in-person learning will continue.

We are committed to limiting the impact on our students due to contract negotiations. More information will be provided at a later time on operational changes during a strike.

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Financial considerations

  • On Wednesday, Sept. 28, prior to the union filing an intent to strike with the Bureau of Mediation Services, the district offered a wage increase, which was exactly the same as the union’s offer during mediation Aug. 23. The offer also included the agreed upon insurance increases and other contractual agreements made during mediation. The union declined the most recent offer from the district.
  • The state of Minnesota increased the per pupil funding for the 2022-2023 school year by 2%, equating to roughly $282,000 of new funds for the district. Any wage increase of more than 2% will have to include staff and budget cuts, be absorbed by additional student enrollment, and/or decrease the district fund balance.
  • The school board is committed to maintaining at least a 15% fund balance to ensure high quality staffing and programs that support students now and in the future since state funding is not keeping pace with inflation and employee wages. When refinancing bonds, the district’s fund balance gives the school district a lower rate, saving taxpayer dollars.
  • The political landscape and school funding is unpredictable, with schools receiving a range of 0% to 2.45% increases in recent years. The district will have used all the one-time federal funds (ESSER and COVID) at the conclusion of this school year to maintain current staffing levels and provide a safe learning environment. 
  • Inflation is affecting staff as well as the district budget. For example, like your own households, the district’s electric bill for August increased over 30% from 2021 to 2022, equating to roughly a $12,000 increase for one month, and $144,000 for the year.
  • The union’s first proposal included 33 different items, with 19 areas for financial increases, which was an increase of over 50% for one year (equating to roughly $1.5 million). This proposal more than 25% times the state’s general formula increase. This proposal would have dropped the district’s fund balance from 15% to 10% in one year.

The district will continue to keep staff and families informed throughout this process. The Pequot Lakes School Board looks forward to working with the union on an agreement that reflects our shared values.

Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "Pineandlakes Echo Journal." Often, the "Pineandlakes Echo Journal" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.

Send us your news or story ideas by emailing nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or calling 218-855-5877. Be sure to leave a message!
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