Updated: 4:40 p.m.
Around 470 public defenders and 200 support staff across Minnesota have rejected the state's latest contract offer and authorized a strike.
Ten days of mediation must take place before employees could walk off the job. Union leaders said Thursday it would be the first time in Minnesota that public defenders and their staffs went on strike and they were anxious to avoid one.
The two sides have been haggling over pay disparities with other agencies, staffing levels and other issues. The public defenders say it's hurting their clients, most of whom are indigent and minorities.
“All we want is to be able to do our job to the best of our ability. Unfortunately, we cannot do that until we have fair pay, benefits and working conditions that retain good, well-trained attorneys,” Kyle MacArthur, a public defense investigator said in a statement released by Teamsters Local 320.
Union negotiators had urged members to vote no on the offer from the Minnesota Board of Public Defense.
"The negotiating committee felt [the offer] did not address any of our priorities — financial, pay scale disparities, the parity that we've been trying to reach with prosecutors and attorney generals, the caseload issues we've been talking about as well as the workplace safety, health and COVID issues. Really none of them were addressed," Christopher Lynch, an assistant public defender, said in a Feb. 22 video.
The Board of Public Defense said in a statement it agrees that public defenders are underpaid and offices understaffed, but the board is “constrained in its negotiations by the resources provided by the state to provide these constitutionally mandated services across Minnesota."
Minnesota is one of 26 states that funds its public defense department at the state level.
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