MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Minneapolis public school teachers went on strike Tuesday, canceling classes for over 30,000 students after a deadlock with school administration over wages, class sizes and student resources.
Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Greta Callahan held a press conference early Tuesday morning as teachers joined picket lines at schools.
“We’re on strike for safe and stable schools and systemic change,” she said, saying the union wanted the strike “to be the shortest strike possible,” and that they were willing to return to the bargaining table when the district was.
The union is pushing for a salary increase for the district’s 1,500 educational support professionals, from about $24,000 to $35,000 a year. Those employees’ duties vary widely, ranging from translation, assistance for special-needs students, running before- and after-school programs and bus support, among others.
Teachers are also seeking to raise their own salaries, saying that at an average of $71,500, Minneapolis teachers are paid less than other districts in the Twin Cities Metro. Two neighboring cities, the state capital of St. Paul and the wealthy southwestern suburb of Edina, boast the highest teacher pay in the state, averaging $75,199 and $75,489, respectively.
They also seek caps on class sizes and more mental health supports for students.
Superintendent Ed Graff expressed his disappointment in a statement, but said both the district and the union’s priorities were “based on our deep commitment to the education of Minneapolis students.” He added that the district would “remain at the mediation table nonstop in an effort to reduced the length and impact of this strike.”
The district administration has argued that the teachers’ demands are financially infeasible. “We’re resource-limited. The finances are not enough to provide the support that we need to provide,” Graff said at his own press conference Monday night. Covid relief funds, he said, had allowed the schools to pay staff at current levels but still left the district at a shortfall.
“Our kids need mental health support, our teachers need mental health support. We know that,” he said. The district and teachers, however, had a difference of nearly $100 million between their proposals.
Minnesota’s politicians also weighed in. Republican Senate Majority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Paul Gazelka dismissed the strike on Twitter Monday night, calling it “a union money grab” and saying that teachers were “attempting to muscle their way into the budget surplus when they should be doing their jobs teaching YOUR kids.”
Gazelka’s presumptive opponent, incumbent Democratic Governor Tim Walz, remained silent on the strike. The firmly Democratic city’s legislators, however, came out firmly in support of the teachers.
“We have a $9 Billion surplus,” State Representative Esther Agbaje, who represents Minneapolis' downtown and portions of its western edge and North Side, wrote in her own tweet. “Part of that should be used to invest in our public schools, and pay educators and ESPs a living wage.”
The school district across the river, in the state capital of St. Paul, narrowly averted its own strike Monday night, reaching a tentative agreement with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.
Teachers’ unions from both cities co-hosted rallies and campaigned together in the lead-up to the strike. Union demands in St. Paul were similar to those raised in Minneapolis, and echoed the demands central to a March 2020 strike which ended at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Teachers on the picket line chanted and ate donated donuts and coffee to keep sprits up in the 20-degree chill. “A union united will never be defeated” and “Education is a right” were popular chants. Strikers and supporters were greeted with honks from passing cars.
Minneapolis’ last teacher strike was in 1970, at a time when it was still illegal. That strike lasted three weeks, ending with a loss for the strikers but prompting the state to allow collective bargaining for public sector workers.
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