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Workers at Daniel del Prado’s Colita, Cafe Ceres Are Unionizing

Plus FBI investigates autism centers, a prison labor lawsuit, two soon-to-open restaurants, and cars pulled from the water in today's Flyover news roundup.

Twitter: Unite Here Local 17|

Freshly unionized workers from Colita and Café Ceres.

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of important, overlooked, and/or interesting Minnesota news stories.

Will These Posh Spots Become Union Shops?

That’s what a "supermajority" of the 90 combined workers at Colita and all four Cafe Ceres are hoping, as they informed bosses today that they're linking up with local hospitality union Unite Here Local 17.

“I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years now, and I’ve gone from shop to shop,” Colita server Sara Zabinski says via press release. “But in reality, the problems are there in every shop you go to. I really want to make Colita my career. A real career! I don’t see why the service industry doesn’t deserve that.” 

Now owner Daniel del Prado must decide whether or not to recognize his unionizing employees. If he opts not to recognize, those workers will then vote in an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. For more details on the union push, read this great, super-fast story filed by Eater's Justine Jones.

This news comes weeks after workers at Ann Kim’s namesake restaurant, Kim's, decided to go union under the umbrella of Unite Here Local 17, followed by Kim’s awkward response that she “wholeheartedly” believes “we can do this together without a union.” Like Kim, del Prado has been nominated for James Beard Awards and is considered a rockstar in food-critic circles.

The FBI Investigating MN Autism Centers

Deena Winter has a big scoop over at Minnesota Reformer today, where she reports that the FBI is looking into possible Medicaid fraud at treatment centers for autism, according to several anonymous sources. ASD diagnosis and treatment is big business these days, especially in Minnesota. According to data Winter obtained from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, since 2018 the amount paid to providers for autism-related services has gone from about $6 million to nearly $192 million. 

We don’t know the specifics of the investigation, but the Reformer piece points to at least a few areas in need of improvement. While autism behavior analysts must be licensed with the state, centers do not. Areas of concern among experts include: businesses getting autism treatment money without actually providing any (often spendy) autism treatment; businesses filing incorrect paperwork in order to receive higher insurance payouts; and the potential to take advantage of immigrant/non-English speaking parents with children diagnosed with ASD.

Lawsuit: MN Dept. of Corrections More About Profit, Less About Rehabilitation

A lawsuit filed yesterday by Nathan Delgado, a former MN DOC employee, alleges that the department often scooped prisoners away from training and job programs when more people were needed to make furniture and other goods for about $.50 an hour. As part of MINNCOR’s Bridge Program, Delgado would help individuals make resumes, find job leads, and interview for positions. But in his lawsuit he claims that higher ups were often more focused on maintaining cheap prison labor.

“Go ahead. But we still have work to do and when we only have eight [inmates], it makes it that much tougher,” his manager says in a recording sent to press. “And I hope you can appreciate that because it still is a business, and we still need to pay the bills.”

Among the accusations in Delgado’s 21-page civil complaint: pulling workers from training programs to work for the prison, threats to make examples out of certain people, and reprimands from supervisors that he needed “to respect production’s time.”

Often referred to as "the hidden workforce," incarcerated people produce $2 billion annually in goods, often for well-known companies who benefit from tax dollars on top of cheap labor well below minimum wage.

A Tale of Two Restaurants Coming Soon

Minnesota: We like eating. Thankfully a handful of new spots have our backs, so let’s take a moment to stroll through a few recent announcements.

First, fans of Khue’s Kitchen pop-ups at Bar Brava featuring Vietnamese eats like spicy tofu and ribs will want to check out chef Eric Pham’s new brick-'n'-mortar space at 799 University Ave. W. in St Paul. “No holding back come August,” he tells Justine Jones at Eater Twin Cities. Pham's grandmother opened Eat Street institution Quang, and his mother is still a chef there. 

When Du Nord Craft Spirits bartenders announced they were unionizing and the owners were on board, we were psyched. But then the pandemic hit, followed by the unrest, and owners of the Longfellow business announced that while the distillery would keep producing spirits (they landed a deal with Delta Airlines in 2021), the cocktail lounge would remain forever closed. Four years later, Chris and Shanelle Montana, co-founders of Du Nord Social Spirits, are headed back into the fray with Lagniappe, a Creole-themed restaurant in the Coliseum Building on the corner of 27th & East Lake Street. "We only make what we like," Shanelle tells Stephanie March at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, "so we followed that instinct. And we really like New Orleans food." They’re aiming for a fall opening.

Submerged Car Recovery in Bloomington Reveals Second Sunken Car

You’ve probably seen the news about emergency responders’ multi-day efforts to pull a submerged vehicle out of the Minnesota River in Bloomington. Well, it turns out that one car led to another, as the crew managed to discover another car nearby. 

“During the recovery efforts, HCSO Water Patrol Deputies used sonar detection to locate the vehicle,” says a press release from Hennepin County Sheriff's Office sent to us this afternoon. “During that search, sonar also detected a second vehicle in close proximity to the first vehicle. Today at approximately 2:45 p.m., we were able to pull that vehicle out of the water.” 

Officials say the second car appears to be older, and there was no mention of a body inside. "We believe the incidents are unrelated," sheriff spokeswoman Megan Larson said during a conference. Tragically, the vehicle that launched the rescue did contain a body; police haven’t released an identity yet.

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