By Sandi Sherman
MINNEAPOLIS, March 29, 2022— After a 14-day strike, teachers and education support professionals (ESPs) returned to the classroom here on Monday, March 28. They had just approved a contract that their union leadership touted as achieving significant gains. The district’s 28,500 students returned the next day. It was the first teachers’ strike in Minneapolis since 1970.
The contract includes significant raises for ESPs, bringing them close to the union’s demand for a $35,000 starting yearly salary, with median wages increasing from about $20 to nearly $24 per hour. ESPs will also get $6,000 bonuses, with those serving more than 10 years getting another $1,000. Until now, starting yearly salary for ESPs was $24,000.1
Teachers will get a 2% salary bump in the first year of the contract and 3% in the second year, as well as a $4,000 bonus in the first year. This salary rise is the highest Minneapolis teachers have received since the turn of the century.
Lucy Nevels, a second-grade teacher who got this job after working as a flight attendant, said the new agreement would make a big financial difference. “For me, it will bring me hopefully out of poverty level,” she told Minnesota Public Radio.
These increases, however, are below the rate of inflation and the teachers’ pay will still trail that of educators in surrounding districts.
The union won its demand for mental health support teams in elementary schools and the placement of a social worker in every building. In addition, for the first time, class size caps are now in contract language, instead of a memorandum of agreement that has no teeth.
Large majorities, 76% of the teachers and 80% of the ESPs, ratified the contract.
Shaun Laden, President of the ESP chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59, said the contract also includes “a nation-leading model that exempts teachers of color from seniority-based layoff and excessing.” Greta Callahan, president of the union’s teacher chapter, noted, “We now have a legal document holding both the district and the union accountable to protect and support teachers of color.”
Recruitment and retention of teachers of color were major issues in the strike. While students of color make up more than 60% of Minneapolis public schools, teachers of color number less than 30%.
“Our collective action for the past three weeks, and the support of our communities, have created the first lasting, enforceable guarantees about the size of classes our students will learn in as well as specific contract language around supporting and retaining educators of color,” Callahan said. “We have increased our mental health support teams. We will return to our schools on Monday more united with our students, our communities, and each other. That said, it is unacceptable that our district leaders kept students out of school for 14 days in order to add some of these critical supports for our students.”
Teachers and ESPs held the line for 14 days, picketing at school sites, gathering daily for mass rallies and marches at the state Capitol, through downtown Minneapolis, at the Governor’s Mansion, and at school district headquarters. Striking band and choir directors from public schools livened up the actions by playing instruments and singing. The energy was infectious, with passersby waving and honking their horns.
Management, city leaders, and the media sought to sow divisions to undermine public support for the strike claiming the walkout was hurting students and the union wasn’t prioritizing teachers of color. The Star Tribune, for example, featured a story on March 26, before the strike ended, saying that a group of educators largely based at the Patrick Henry High School said that although they supported other negotiation priorities “their experiences in recent weeks have left them bruised, disenchanted and uncertain whether the district or the union has a place for them.”
Tiffany Doherty, an African-American teacher at Anwatin Middle School, challenged this view. “There are a few loud Black voices that people are thinking represent the Black voice, and that is not the truth,” she told the Star Tribune. “There is a division, but it’s twisted to say this is a narrative for all Black educators.”
“One of our 20-plus-year veteran ESP told me this was the best contract she could remember,” ESP president Shaun Laden said. “[This] agreement will allow some educators to quit their second and third jobs, more educators will be able to afford to stay at Minneapolis Public Schools, and most importantly our students will have more stable schools.”
A case in point is Hodan Hassan, mother to five children, who has worked as an ESP for the district for six years. She currently works at North Community High School. She said her wages were so low that she had to take a second job to get by.
Union leaders and many teachers this writer spoke to on picket lines expressed optimism that they are stronger for having taken this action and will be in a better position to have their concerns heard in the future.
“Being out on the picket line with your entire group of coworkers and having time to talk to them, to get to know them, to understand them — that can be a transformative experience for educators and for the union as a whole,” Laden said. “We won a lot of important gains in the contract, but our most priceless win from the strike is that we were all out together for three weeks. We came together. We never knew how powerful we were before now.”
 For more information on the issues in this strike see “Minneapolis Teachers Strike for Living Wages and Better Support for Students,” published on March 13, 2022, by World-Outlook.
Categories: Labor Movement / Trade Unions