Lawsuit continues against racial preference in MPS teacher layoff policy — and other labor news
Take a seat in the Break Room, our weekly round-up of labor news in Minnesota and beyond.
Challenge to racial preference in teacher layoffs revived
A lawsuit challenging a new policy that would shield Minneapolis teachers of color from seniority-based layoffs will proceed after the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday overturned a lower court’s decision to throw out the case.
The policy was adopted in 2022 in the collective bargaining agreement between the teachers’ union and Minneapolis public schools after a 14-day strike. It states the district must lay off the least senior teachers not from “underrepresented populations” first. If the district calls back laid off teachers, they must first reinstate teachers from “underrepresented populations,” a group that could also include LGBTQ and multilingual teachers.
Leaders of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers advocated for the policy because teachers of color are on the whole younger, and seniority-based layoffs would work against the district’s goal to recruit and retain a more diverse teaching force. Less than 20% of Minneapolis teachers are people of color, while roughly two-thirds of their students are.
Even if the policy was written carefully enough to withstand lawsuits, the defense could be costly.
The current lawsuit came even though no teachers have been laid off in 17 years, and the policy has not even been implemented, according to Minneapolis Schools Voices’ Melissa Whitler, who first reported the ruling.
The plaintiff, Deborah Clapp, brought the case as a Minneapolis homeowner with the assistance of the conservative legal foundation Judicial Watch. She doesn’t have a personal stake in the policy nor has she been directly affected by it, which is why a district court judge dismissed the lawsuit. The judge ruled Clapp doesn’t have standing and the case isn’t “ripe” — in other words, based on events that haven’t happened.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, however, siding with Clapp that she does have an interest as a taxpayer to challenge unlawful disbursements of public money.
The appeals court ruling doesn’t address the underlying claim in Clapp’s lawsuit — that the policy violates the Minnesota Constitution’s equal protection guarantee — but rather revives the case and allows it to proceed in Hennepin County District Court.
In a statement, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Greta Callahan said the union remains committed to the policy because students benefit from educators “with a wide range of skills, life experiences.”
“It’s ironic that a lawsuit seeking to protect taxpayer money will cost our district far more than this layoff and reassignment policy ever will,” she said.
While MPS hasn’t laid off teachers in years, the district has also warned of an “imminent financial crisis” stemming from declining enrollment and a glut of real estate. Minneapolis Public Schools has more buildings per student than any other large district in Minnesota, according to financial projections released by the district this week. The district would have to close 24 buildings to match averages of other large districts.
Callahan said while there is always talk of possible layoffs, realistically, the district is struggling to fill the 6% of teaching positions that are open.
The Minneapolis Public Schools did not provide comment on the suit or answer questions about potential layoffs.
Construction contractor faces $1.8 million fines for trenching hazards
For the fourth time in as many years, Minnesota-based Wagner Construction was cited by federal labor regulators for endangering workers and faces $1.8 million in penalties.
In 2021, the company reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor after inspectors found employees exposed to excavation hazards at three North Dakota job sites. As part of the settlement, the company promised to protect workers from trenching and excavation hazards.
Yet in June, federal inspectors found workers exposed to trenching hazards as they replaced a residential water main in Minot.
“In 2022, 39 people died while doing trenching and excavation work — the highest number in almost 20 years — making this company’s unwillingness to protect its employees truly disturbing,” Occupational Safety and Health Administration Regional Administrator Jennifer Rous said in a statement on Tuesday.
Asking job applicants about their pay soon banned
Minnesota employers are barred from asking job applicants about their current or previous pay in order to set compensation under a new law that takes effect Jan. 1.
The law aims to eliminate the state’s gender and racial pay gap, since the practice of setting future pay on current earnings can reinforce the state’s pay disparities. It is also meant to encourage employers to only consider an applicant’s qualifications and market conditions. The law does not, however, prohibit applicants from voluntarily disclosing their pay history to negotiate higher pay.
Twenty-two other states have similar laws.
“These pay history laws work. Pay is up for women, people of color, and Indigenous community members in states that have implemented similar laws across the country,” said Rebecca Lucero, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, in a statement on Thursday. (Her agency will be in charge of enforcing the law.)
The new rule is one of a slate of worker-friendly laws passed by the Legislature earlier this year in what was one of the most consequential sessions in at least a generation.
Probation for construction contractor for insurance fraud
The owner of a Twin Cities area construction company was sentenced on Monday to 20 days of electronic home monitoring and two years of probation for insurance fraud in a case highlighting the common exploitation of workers in the residential construction industry.
Nelson Israel Lopez Giron, 35, was sentenced in Hennepin County District Court after he pleaded guilty to a felony for lying about his employees to reduce the cost of his workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Lopez Giron will also pay restitution and a $1,000 fine, perform 10 hours of community service and may not accept any federal or state contracts while on probation.
The case came to light after one of Lopez Giron’s employees was struck in the eye with a nail, causing permanent vision damage. The worker said Lopez Giron initially offered him only eye drops and told him to go back to work. (Lopez Giron denies this.)
The worker also says he was told to lie about how he was injured when he sought medical attention days after the injury in February 2020. He initially told medical staff he was injured by falling on ice, according to court records, but later came forward to claim workers’ compensation with the assistance of the carpenters’ union and worker advocates at the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL).
Uber/Lyft task force begins negotiations
Gov. Tim Walz’s task force on compensation and working standards for Uber and Lyft drivers began negotiations in earnest on Tuesday after meeting a half-dozen times since the summer. The group — which includes representatives for the companies, drivers, state agencies and people with disabilities — found some consensus on proposals to send to the Legislature on regulations for price transparency, driver terminations (or “deactivations”) and driver resources.
The group will take up the most contentious topics — minimum pay rates and insurance coverage — at its final meeting scheduled for Dec. 19 and must submit recommendations to the governor by Jan. 1.
The task force was scheduled to receive data on driver wages and fares in Minnesota to inform their decision making by the final meeting, but that analysis now isn’t expected to be ready until February or March, according to Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach.
That means the task force will be debating wages with conflicting claims from drivers and the companies. Some drivers say they don’t make minimum wage, while Uber says drivers in the Twin Cities earn on average $32.22 per utilized hour — the time between accepting a fare and dropping off a passenger.
As part of Walz’s executive order establishing the task force, which he issued after vetoing a bill regulating Uber and Lyft, the Department of Labor and Industry must conduct a study on working conditions and how potential changes may impact access and cost for riders. Both companies have warned setting minimum pay too high could cause demand to plummet and force them to curtail or end service.
The department received data on every single trip taken with Uber and Lyft in 2022, which is the largest dataset of its kind examined by any government, according to Lyft.
“An exercise like this has never been undertaken in the history of the industry,” said Saahil Karpe, Lyft’s representative on the task force, during a recent meeting.
Any regulations must be approved by the Legislature, which could take the findings into account along with the task force’s recommendations, when lawmakers begin a new session in February.
Minnesota United audio and video workers win first contract
The union representing roughly 30 Minnesota United workers who operate audio and video feeds in Allianz Field reached a tentative agreement on their first collective bargaining agreement.
The agreement, which is expected to be ratified by workers, raises wages 29% on average over the next three years. It also guarantees workers are paid for at least 5.5 hours for each home game they work, a first for in-house technicians in Minnesota, according to IATSE Local 745 representative Charlie Cushing.
Workers voted to unionize in September 2022 and went on strike during the final regular season soccer game in October, disrupting the broadcast of the game on Apple’s MLS Season Pass.
“A month ago I didn’t know if we were ever going to get an agreement,” Cushing said. “I’m ecstatic.”
The agreement would boost average worker pay from about $220 per game to $284 per game in 2026, Cushing said. There are 18 home games in a season.
The union didn’t get everything it wanted. Workers were pushing for health care and pension contributions, but sacrificed those demands for higher pay raises.
Woman sentenced to fast food job
An Ohio woman convicted of assault for throwing a burrito bowl at a Chipotle worker may get reduced jail time if she works at a fast food restaurant under a sentence handed down last week.
Rosemary Hayne, 39, apologized for her actions to her victim but explained that her food looked “disgusting,” according to Cleveland’s FOX 8 News.
“You didn’t get your burrito bowl the way you like it and this is how you respond?” Judge Timothy Gilligan said during sentencing. “This is not real housewives of Parma. This behavior is not acceptable.”
Gilligan added, “I bet you won’t be happy with the food you are going to get in the jail.”
Gilligan sentenced Haye to 90 days in jail, but Hayne may get credit for 60 days if she works at least 20 hours per week at a fast food restaurant for two months. FOX 8 reports Hayne said she plans to get a restaurant job.