Firefighters union wins labor appeal

The city of Brainerd violated state employee labor laws when it restructured its fire department three years ago to replace full-time union firefighting staff with paid, on-call firefighters, a state Court of Appeals panel ruled last week.

In a cost-cutting measure that the city estimated would save hundreds of thousands of dollars over several years, it eliminated five fire equipment operator positions — city employee positions with full benefits — and instead hired one new assistant fire chief, according to the ruling.

The city then relied on using more part-time, paid, on-call firefighters, who do not receive benefits and are paid a "nominal sum." The move came months after the city and union negotiated and signed a new three-year agreement.

A three-judge appeals panel found that the city violated the Minnesota Public Employees Labor Relations Act. It sent the case back to the district court to address the union's requests for relief.

Pam Louwagie

Otter Tail County

Zebra mussels found in Walker Lake

Zebra mussels have been confirmed in Walker Lake, a small lake connected to the north side of Otter Tail Lake, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said last week.

A lake property owner found adult zebra mussels on an irrigation intake while removing it for the season. DNR staff found more zebra mussels on other equipment in the same area of the lake and where Walker Lake has an outlet into Otter Tail Lake, where zebra mussels were confirmed in 2016.

"New zebra mussel populations are often discovered in the fall," said Heidi Wolf, a DNR invasive species unit supervisor. "It's important to carefully check docks, boat lifts and other equipment being removed for the season and to contact the DNR if you think you've found an invasive species."

John Reinan


St. Olaf gets $1M gift for equity programs

A gift from an alumnus will allow St. Olaf College to increase its efforts at building an inclusive campus culture, the school announced.

Glenn Taylor, who graduated from the school in 1973, and his wife donated $1 million to establish the Glenn and Myretta Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion.

The center's services will include dedicated programs for students of color and international students, as well as multicultural engagement campuswide. This engagement will range from speakers and public events to further education, outreach, and training for students, faculty and staff.

John Reinan