BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Editor’s note: At press time, the Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers’ unions had not yet reached an agreement with the Minneapolis public schools and the St. Paul public schools. Please visit our website for the latest information: www.SouthsidePride.com.
The Big Story
In a deliberately coordinated effort, MFT59 and MFT59-ESP, representing teachers and other professionals at the Minneapolis public schools, and SPFE (SPFT 28), representing both departments at the St. Paul public schools, filed strike intent documents on Wednesday a. February 23. As of this writing we are halfway through the 10 day (working day) ‘cooling off’ period and the temperature seems to be rising, not falling. A widespread strike by teachers and Education Support Professionals (ESPs) in both cities could begin as early as March 8, meaning it may already have started by the time you read this.
Although there are historical, cultural and other differences between the workforces of the two school systems, as we will detail below, there is also much overlap in their requirements. That’s why the educators’ unions in the two cities are working on the same schedule as much as possible. (However, with or without a preceding strike, it is likely that the agreements eventually reached will not materialize simultaneously.)
On Saturday, February 12, the two unions, Minneapolis in bright blue and St. Paul in bright red, held a joint sub-zero mega-rally. A few thousand turned out for “Purple Power” – the effect of pooling the strength of educators in two twin cities at a time of exceptional need, not only due to COVID, but other forces that are putting public education everywhere in a “race” drift to the ground.”
The MFT voting took place at scattered locations on different days over a period of about a week, with results coming in the morning of February 17th. The SPFE vote took place one day shortly after voting closed in Minneapolis. When the MFT results came in, union experts were amazed: the teachers chapter had a 96% turnout with 97% yes votes, while the ESP chapter had a 93% turnout with 98% yes votes. This is practically unanimous. The SPFE’s numbers weren’t quite as overwhelming, but still a clear indication of very high support, with turnout and yes votes each approaching 80%.
The view from St. Paul
The SPFE has had several yes strike votes over the past decade and actually went out for three days in early March 2020. Through these actions, they were able to secure wage increases and other demands to improve the SPSS workplace. But for some reason the administration of that system felt the time was right to grab some treats from the union, so they hired a notorious anti-union consultancy and came to the 2022 bargaining session to make rollbacks on several key existing contract issues demand .
One of the arguments put forward by the school system was so offensive and disrespectful that I think it immediately qualifies as fraudulent bargaining. They sought to reclaim something called “weighted case counts,” which allows the maximum student-to-discipline ratio to be adjusted based on the severity of each student’s needs. In other words, 500 students with high needs would correspond to 1000 students with only average needs, for example. Negotiators for SPPS said that ESPs would “inflate” the needs of their students so they wouldn’t have to work as hard.
Another recovery the SPSS negotiating team is seeking is to remove a worker’s ability to forgo his insurance coverage if his spouse is in the same scheme and covered by the same insurance as a family.
In a webinar titled “Why We’re Striking,” hosted by the Education Justice Working Group, a subgroup of the Labor branch of the Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America, SPFE spokesman Jeffrey Garcia said Minnesota is always doing more than that Epicenter of a kind of corporate predatory mentality is known about schools. Decisions about what is a reasonable (or even possible) caseload for special education students are made by finance professionals rather than education professionals. When the results are terrible, students and teachers, and ESPs in particular, are admonished that it’s their fault for not working hard enough.
The view of Minneapolis
Unlike the SPFE, MFT59 did not even threaten to strike for decades, and last went on strike in 1970 when it was not even legal. The contract has not kept pace with the changing needs of educators, and the COVID pandemic has accelerated this problem to a breaking point. In a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, MFT59 Teachers Division President Greta Callahan noted that the two groups, teachers and ESPs, have joined forces to demand that ESP starting salaries be removed from the frankly abusive $24,000 per year to $35,000 per year Raising teacher pay scales to compete with surrounding school districts.
Callahan noted that over the past year and a half, the system has lost a staggering 650 teachers, including 120 color teachers. It’s hard to see how they even have ESPs left. For example, an ESP making $24,000 a year pays exactly the same health insurance premiums and has the same deductible as a system administrator making $400,000 a year. And many ESPs have second or third jobs to keep themselves afloat, or, when their circumstances preclude it, often home and food insecurity.
Establishing and retaining color brokers is another important point in the negotiations for a new contract. MPS claims this is one of their top priorities. But sensible proposals like exempting color teachers from layoffs meet flimsy objections, like fears they’ll face a court case if they do. One wonders – who do you think would sue them? White teachers who risked everything this year to demand that liberation? you see what i mean? It’s offensive, gaslighting, and ultimately destructive.
book-on-1970-194×300.jpg” alt=”” width=”194″ height=”300″ srcset=”https://secureservercdn.net/18.104.22.168/439.739.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/202203-Education-Bill-Greens-book-on-1970-194×300.jpg 194w, https://secureservercdn.net/22.214.171.124/439.739.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/202203-Education-Bill-Greens-book-on-1970-97×150.jpg 97w, https://secureservercdn.net/126.96.36.199/439.739.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/202203-Education-Bill-Greens-book-on-1970.jpg 662w” sizes=”(max-width: 194px) 100vw, 194px”/>A perfectly timed new book from former Superintendent Green
Speaking of the last time MFT members struck, there’s quite a story attached to it. And who better to write this story than a person who sat on the Minneapolis school board, served as superintendent for four years, saved the school system when it had a leadership crisis, and both, professor of history at the University of Augsburg before and after serving as MPS Superintendent? This person, dr. William (Bill) Green did just that.
In an interview with Racket’s Em Cassel, Dr. Green on why he had to write this story. For one thing, there is a dearth of other writings about it. Second, it started by just talking to friends who had been teachers at the MPS at the time of the strike and expressing his surprise that a 20-day strike was ultimately successful with no one dying, bleeding or starving can be so terribly traumatic. He noticed that veterans of this strike looked like war veterans when they talked about it.
The special thing about it, of course, is that it was actually illegal at the time. The striking MFT members lost friends belonging to the less militant teachers’ union, which also existed, and did not join the strike. They also risked immediate loss of their jobs and pensions, and social death from the disapproval of their radical, illegal action. The state of Minnesota had enacted a law in the 1950s that banned all strikes by unionized public employees.
When asked if the strikers got their demands in the end, Dr. Green’s third reason why he had to write this book:
“They did, and that’s what I think makes this strike historic: they changed the law of the state. … And in a way, that was far more important than the other issues they were negotiating. The amended law basically put the state on the side of the workers in a way it hadn’t done in the past, whereas previously the state was anti-workers because it prevented workers from taking a position and being seen as equals became. as people. The quality of life has gradually improved – and that’s one of the reasons you haven’t seen any strikes. … When these people, who had invested decades of their lives in an institution and accumulated adequate pension funds, benefits and the like – when they would throw down everything to pick up a placard and take to the streets to fight for something like changing a law means for me that you are talking about many heroes here. Ordinary people acted heroically. That’s what the story is about for me.”
The book is entitled Strike! Twenty days in 1970, when teachers in Minneapolis broke the law.” It is published by the University of Minnesota Press and is available for pre-order now. You can pre-order for shipping from Amazon or your favorite local independent bookstore via bookshop.org.
More info or join
If you have family members in the Minneapolis or St. Paul school system, you are likely already receiving notices of the potential strike coming up, including how it will affect you and also how you can support it. If not, there are ways to connect online. Check out one of the following Facebook pages: MFT 59, St. Paul Federation of Educators, Education Justice MN. In addition to your choice of daily news media, check out the online Workday Minnesota newspaper at workdayminnesota.org. You can contribute to the Minneapolis strike fund at www.mft59.org/strike-fund.