Minnesota public defenders reach agreement to avoid strike – WSOC TV

ST. PAUL, Minn. — (AP) — Minnesota public defenders have reached a tentative agreement on the contract, union officials said Saturday, averting a strike that threatened to cripple much of the state’s justice system.

Negotiators for union attorneys and the Minnesota Board of Public Defense met with a state mediator on Friday. Gus Froemke, spokesman for Teamsters Local 320, which represents the 470 public defenders and 200 support staff, said the deal was reached shortly before midnight.

Public defenders were scheduled to go on strike as early as Tuesday across Minnesota. Lawyers said they have been pushed to the brink by regularly high caseloads that have become unmanageable amid the coronavirus pandemic. Legal system watchers say the same pressures are being felt across the United States

The union said the tentative agreement includes cost-of-living adjustments through 2023. The agreement includes a retroactive 3.5% wage increase from July 1, 2021 and an additional 3% increase after July 1 of this year. Both parties have also agreed to seek additional budget allocation from the Legislative Assembly this year.

“After more than nine months of tough negotiations for fair working conditions and better pay, two essential elements to retaining quality lawyers and support staff, we are delighted to have reached an agreement with the Board of Directors. that will help us more fairly represent Minnesota’s indigent defendants,” public defender Ginny Barron said in a statement.

Defense attorneys will vote on the contract within two weeks, the union said.

Large-scale strikes by public defenders are almost unprecedented. Lawyers staged a one-day strike in Ventura County, California in 1995, but in many states public defenders are unorganized. In many jurisdictions, most are lawyers in private practice who defend indigent clients on a part-time basis.

Coincidentally, Friday was the 59th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court “Gideon” decision, which ruled that states are constitutionally obligated to provide attorneys to defendants who cannot afford them.

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