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Big Labor News for Baristas, Lyft Drivers, and Court Interpreters

Plus the state of the Mississippi River, checking in on Mpls' new council prez, and the end of an era in St. Paul in today's Flyover news roundup.


You’d smile too if the NLRB just saved your union.

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily midday digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.

Some Labor News, Mostly Good

Increasing labor demands while there’s a tight labor market? It works. Irritated with the lack of legislative progress at the state and city level, Uber and Lyft drivers began rolling out a series of strikes on New Year’s Eve, when 200 of them sat out one the most lucrative nights of the year for drivers. Another action is set for tomorrow, with upcoming rallies and strikes planned monthly. And it’s paid off some: Alfonzo Galvan at Sahan Journal reports that Lyft has agreed to a $5/per ride minimum and will partner with the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association to provide support services for drivers, including language translation and help with submitting support tickets.

Meanwhile we’re now in day three of a strike of Minnesota court interpreters. Though they’ve received a mandated raise from $56 to $65 an hour, interpreters are insisting on $96.50 an hour to match their initial 1997 rates, adjusted for inflation. According to (again) Sahan’s Galvan, the interpreters are frustrated that court administrator Jeff Shorba has refused to negotiate. For his part, Shorba says "we simply cannot afford [$96.50] given our current legislative appropriation,” while hoping for an additional $1.6 million in state funding in 2024, which would allow for a raise to $75 an hour.

And finally, the National Labor Relations Board came through for the Starbucks union at the Mall of America, denying a petition from some workers (supported by the National Right to Work Foundation, natch) to hold an election to kick the union out. Max Nesterak at the Minnesota Reformer reports that the NLRB, by a 2-1 vote (Republican appointee Marvin Kaplan was the nay), said the decertification election should be delayed while the feds investigate Starbucks’ alleged unfair labor practices. “Regional NLRB offices have issued 127 complaints against Starbucks, including that Starbucks has failed or refused to bargain with workers at 259 stores—including the Mall of America store,” says Nesterak.

How Clean Is the Upper Mississippi River?

Timely question, glad you asked! Because, on Tuesday, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association released a 30-year report on that very subject, one whose findings should be of great importance to Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, and headwaters G.O.A.T. Minnesota. This is just the second such report to be issued by UMRBA, the first of which arrived back in 1989. How has the second-longest river in the U.S. been doing since then, health-wise? The results are mixed. Most concerning is the fact the Mighty Mississippi is getting mighty salty—chloride concentrations reportedly spiked by 35% between '89 and 2018. That's “a really scary trend," UMRBA's Lauren Salvato tells Investigate Midwest, and one of the main culprits is related to this week's Racket feature story: environmentally calamitous road salts. Elsewhere in the report, nitrogen and phosphorus levels are mixed; suspended solids have thankfully declined by 66%; and the presence of metals has mostly dipped, thanks in part to the Clean Water Act. “We really do want these federal, interstate waters to be valued and treasured," Salvato concludes. "And some of that is through investing in monitoring." You can read the full report here.

Payne on Palestine, Public Safety

St. Paul's groundbreaking all-woman City Council has been making headlines from the New York Times to CNN and beyond... in a real reversal, we're not hearing so much about Minneapolis! MPR is on it, with an interview with newly appointed Minneapolis City Council President Elliott Payne in which he discusses issues both local (housing affordability, homelessness, policing) and locally resonant (calls for a ceasefire in Palestine). Payne's priorities for the year include alternatives to public safety. "In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, there was a real clear mandate that we needed to do policing differently in the city of Minneapolis, and I’m really prioritizing that work," he tells Cathy Wurzer. Then there's the housing affordability crisis. Perhaps you recall the rent stabilization charter amendment that passed in 2021, which there's since been very little movement on? He also wants to start implementing the council's climate equity plan.

Satan and/or Fire Reclaims Last Adult Video Store in St. Paul

Welp, VHS takes another hit? It’s always incredibly sad to see a local business go up in flames, but last night’s fire at 918 University Ave. W. is especially tragic, as the building is believed to have housed the last adult video store in St. Paul. Firefighters report that they responded to a basement fire this morning at 3 a.m.; the two-story building has a residence on the top floor, with the (notorious? Beloved? Delightfully sketchy?) Viva Video’s House of Curiosities at street level. The Pioneer Press reports that the fire was so bad that responders were forced to put it out from the street; a neighbor was able to help a resident off the roof with a ladder. “Due to the significance of the damage, the building is going to be demolished,” says Deputy Chief Roy Mokosso.

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