(FOX 9) - For the first time in state history, most of Minnesota’s public defenders could go on strike in as little as 10 days.
Minnesota Board of Public Defense (BoPD) employees and members of Teamsters Local 320 announced Thursday that they had rejected the "last, best offer" from the BoPD, citing historic caseloads as the need for increased wages and flexibility such as working remotely.
Filing their intent to strike today with state of MN bureau of mediation services, it will begin a 10–day period during which both parties will bargain again during facilitated mediations.
"It’s our goal to reach an agreement that both parties can ratify and avoid a work stoppage," said Brian Aldes, Teamsters Local 320 secretary treasurer and principal officer during the announcement.
Public defenders have collectively said that they are overwhelmed by the caseload demands, and it prevents them from dedicating the time they need to work their clients' cases.
Employees of the BoPD represent 80-90 percent of criminal defendants in the state. The union says the board's failure to negotiate a fair contact is "systemically harming" the state's clients, the majority of whom are from Minnesota's communities of color.
According to an announcement, since public defense employees’ union contract expired in June 2021 the BoPD has "refused to bargain in good faith" and failed to request an adequate budget from the [Minnesota] Legislature that would meet workers’ resource and capacity needs.
Aldes said a wage opener for fiscal year 2023 in case additional dollars are appropriated from the Legislature due to its historic budget surplus should be included in any negotiations.
"We can no longer take pride in our work when leadership disrespects us at every turn," said Jill Nitke, a Public Defense Investigator with the Tenth Judicial District during the announcement. "Clients are suffering and the board needs to return to the bargaining table."