Minneapolis, St. Paul teachers unions could vote to strike this week

Both the Minneapolis Federation and Teachers and the St. Paul Federation of Educators are holding votes to authorize a strike this week as they continue contract negotiations with their districts.

On Monday Minneapolis union members start the voting process. Voting for St. Paul union members starts on Thursday. If either organization votes to authorize a strike it will not immediately lead to a strike. Both organizations will continue negotiations but will have the option to strike if negotiations come to a standstill.

While each organization is asking for different things from the district, both are asking for: more mental health resources for students, language in contracts that limit class sizes, and additional support for educators working with students with special needs.

The Minneapolis Teacher’s Federation claims currently there is one mental health professional for every 600 students in their district. Minneapolis teacher and local activist Marcia Howards says given what students have experienced the last two years, mental health resources should be top of mind.

"Students in Minneapolis and St. Paul have been in the epicenter of a global social justice movement, and they deal with COVID-19. I don’t think that people understand the stresses that they’ve been under, and they’re still attempting to learn," Howard said.

St. Paul teachers are also asking for mental health resources for their students. Union members are also asking for building substitutes, higher wages for educational assistants, and more competitive pay to keep up with pay at surrounding districts. The St. Paul Educators Federation President Leah VanDassor says challenges over the last two years have led to teacher burnout while teachers are given more responsibilities.

"It’s a chronic underfunding of the system and more and more is demanded of schools to take on more and more and to be more and more to all people, surrounding all things, with no more funding," VanDassor said.

The full list of demands from the Minneapolis Teacher’s Federation are listed here: 

  • Increasing pay for education support professionals from starting salaries in the low $20,000s to at least $35,000 a year. Also, increasing teacher compensation to salaries that are competitive with surrounding districts.
  • Retaining educators of color through improvements to working conditions, pay, culturally relevant and responsive professional supports, and going out of seniority order if layoffs and/or excessing occurs.
  • Reducing class sizes, which has academic benefits and would allow for actual physical distancing in classrooms and other instructional spaces to lower the risk of outbreaks that would force more students and educators to miss in-person instruction.
  • Professional time for education support professionals to collaborate with their licensed colleagues, participate in school decision-making committees, prepare to provide academic support and more.
  • Increasing mental health supports for MPS students by bringing the ratio of school counselors and social workers to students down from one for every 600 students, or more. The recommended ratio is one mental health professional for every 250 students.
  • Improving the quality of education for students with special needs and reducing teacher burnout by controlling caseloads and the associated paperwork.
  • Designating some teachers at each school to work remotely with students who cannot attend school in person because the students have tested positive for the virus or are isolating at home after an exposure. These would be called "QuaranTeams."
  • Hiring enough staff to meet the pressing demands of educating students during a pandemic.