As Super Bowl approaches, NFL players take sides in local labor standoffs

As Minnesota prepares to bask in the Super Bowl spotlight, pro football players are using their platform to lift up Minnesota workers fighting for justice and a voice on the job.

Through their union, the NFL Players Association, the athletes are standing in solidarity with bakery workers fighting for a union in Minneapolis and Teamsters weighing a strike at University of Minnesota campuses statewide.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, sent letters this week putting bosses at the university and Franklin Street Bakery on notice that the players stand squarely – and publicly – on the side of working people in Minnesota.

“The NFLPA is a labor union,” Smith wrote to U of M President Eric Kaler on Monday. “In that regard, we do what is necessary to protect the rights of our members and support the efforts of other unionized workers across America.”

At the university, that means supporting members of Teamsters Local 320, who voted in November to authorize a strike after the U balked at their request for contract language strengthening protections against workplace harassment.

The roughly 1,500 custodians, food-service workers and groundskeepers will vote soon on the university’s final contract offer. Union leaders say a vote to reject the offer would trigger a strike, creating a potential conflict for the NFLPA, which plans to hold an event at the U’s alumni center during Super Bowl week.

“We would not have signed the contracts for this event had we known of the pending local labor issues,” Smith wrote to Kaler. “My hope is that the University will resolve all remaining issues with Teamsters Local 320 soon.”

Smith sent a letter Thursday to the CEO of the Super Bowl Host Committee outlining concerns with the glitzy “Taste of the NFL” event, organized annually by Franklin Street Bakery co-owner Wayne Kostroski as a fundraiser for food pantries nationwide. Kostroski, who received a copy of the letter, “doesn’t practice what he preaches” when it comes to his own employees, Smith warned.

“Many Franklin Street Bakery workers are reportedly paid as little as $11 per hour, well below what it takes to sustain a family, raising the real possibility that some of Mr. Kostroski’s own employees are often forced to visit the same food pantries for whom he raises money,” Smith added.

Smith also noted Franklin Street Bakery’s track record of breaking labor law to prevent its workers from organizing for a voice on the job. After the National Labor Relations Board investigated dozens of charges filed by bakery employees, Kostroski and his co-owner last year agreed to a settlement providing $20,000 in back pay to three workers unjustly fired or disciplined for union activity.

But the settlement hasn’t put a stop to bakery workers’ organizing efforts. While Kostroski hobnobs with celebrity chefs and corporate sponsors Feb. 3, his workers will hold a separate event – the “Taste of Justice” – at a union hall just blocks away.

Last year’s “Taste of Justice” raised $1,200 for the food shelf closest to Franklin Street Bakery. The event is free and open to all community supporters. Click here to RSVP on Facebook.

“We stand in full solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the Franklin Street Bakery,” Smith wrote.

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