Minneapolis teachers union to vote on strike authorization Feb. 14

The union of Minneapolis teachers and education support staff will start voting Feb. 14 on a possible strike, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals announced.

Monday night, the joint executive board voted in favor of a membership vote on a strike. Ballots will be collected Feb. 14-17.

Some of the issues the union wants to see addressed include COVID-19 preparedness, wages, mental health support and smaller class sizes. They also are calling for a number of teachers to specifically teach virtually for students who are home due to contacting COVID-19 or virus exposure.

On Tuesday, MFT held a media zoom call to talk more about why they are taking this first step towards a strike.

“It is no longer okay to continue the way it’s been. This year we have students sitting in lunchrooms when there isn’t adequate staffing and there is just so much that could be done to help mitigate that problem,” said Greta Callahan, president of the teachers chapter of the MFT on the Zoom meeting.

“We need to see real, enforceable commitments to addressing years of underpayment to education support professionals, fixing the mental health crisis in our schools, reducing class sizes, controlling caseloads in special education, and increasing teacher compensation so we don’t continue to lose staff, especially educators of color, to surrounding districts and other professions,” Callahan said in a statement.

If the educators vote in favor of a strike, it does not ensure it will happen. Next, the union would have to agree to needing a strike and then formally tell the school district.

The Minneapolis Public School District provided 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS with this statement regarding the strike vote:

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) has been notified by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT 59) and Educational Support Professionals (ESPs) of their intention to take steps toward authorizing a strike later this month. We recognize that the last two years have been incredibly trying for school staff who are dedicated to providing a quality education for our students.

We want to reassure both staff and families that MPS continues to be fully committed to two things: 1) fairly and competitively compensating our educators and staff, and 2) safe learning environments for our students and staff. MPS has been lauded by the Minneapolis Health Department for its ability to limit in-school COVID-19 infections through strict adherence to public health and safety protocols.

“MPS remains committed to ensuring that through our MFT contract the needs of both students and staff are met,” said Superintendent Ed Graff.

MPS has led a months-long effort with MFT to secure a contract. Negotiations on MFT’s 2021-2023 contract began in February 2021. After 10 bargaining sessions, MPS petitioned to move contract negotiations with MFT into mediation with the Bureau of Mediation. An overview of past negotiations sessions is available on this webpage.

If a strike authorization vote occurs, MFT 59 must provide MPS and the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) at least 10 days prior written notice in advance of a strike. MPS looks forward to participating in February mediation meetings with a commitment to successfully reaching contract agreements.

– Minneapolis Public Schools

According to the press release, MFT includes the following requests for their “safe-and-stable schools agenda”:

  • 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. 

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