Today, on March 8, International Women’s Day, 4,000 educators in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) went on strike for “Safe and Stable Schools.” Their union, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) Local 59, represents 3,000 Teachers in one bargaining unit and another 1,000 Education Support Professionals (ESP’s) in a separate bargaining unit. Late on March 7, the 3,600 Teachers, Educational Assistants, Community Service Professionals, and other Licensed Staff in the St. Paul Federation of Educators Local 28 reached a tentative agreement with the district after they were prepared to strike today.
Between the unions, they are fighting for living wages for ESP’s, more mental health workers, counselors, caseload caps, smaller class sizes, lower health insurance premiums, better COVID-19 safety, and policies to support and retain educators of color.
This last issue hits BIPOC educators in Minneapolis hard as the document highlights:
“We have lost 48 teachers of color to layoffs over the last 15 years in the Minneapolis Public Schools. (Broken down: 21 Black, 13 Asian, 9 Hispanic/Latino, 4 multi-cultural, 1 American Indian/Alaskan Native). In the last 18 months, 120 teachers of color have left Minneapolis Public Schools for surrounding districts that pay more, taken early retirement, changed professions, or have been fired. In fact, Black teachers are 7.9 times more likely to be fired by MPS (MFT has no hiring or firing power) than white teachers.”
On March 2, 200 food service workers, represented by SEIU Local 284, in Minneapolis Public Schools voted to strike by a 98.5 percent yes vote. They have worked without a contract since June 2020. According to Kelly Gibbons, Executive Director of Local 284, they earn a starting wage of $15 an hour and no more than $28,000 a year. Many work two or even three jobs in order to survive. Compare this to Ed Graff, the Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, who “earned” $230,000 in 2020. They are asking for raises of $1 per each year of the contract, cost of living raises, and improvements in benefits. As of now, Local 284 hasn’t set a strike date.
The resolve to strike from the educators in all three locals is directly connected to the Black Lives Matter uprising in the streets after George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police almost two years ago, and the chronic underfunding of Minnesota schools by both the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and Republican administrations.
Educators around the country face many similar issues. With this in mind, on March 3 the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 and the St Paul Federation of Educators Local 28 sponsored a virtual solidarity meeting along with endorsers National Educators United, Tempest, and the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission. They aimed to educate the public about the issues, raise money for their strike fund, and let the districts know that the labor movement and communities in Minnesota and around the country stand in solidarity with them.
The Minneapolis strike could be a necessary corrective to the chronic underfunding of public schools and will shine a spotlight on the need to prioritize funding of public education not just in Minneapolis, but around the country. And in defending and fighting for educators of color, both Teachers and ESP’s, this struggle is a reflection of the Black Lives Matter movement moving from the streets into our schools.
Tempest stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the Left and the national labor movement in our collective calls for solidarity and victory to the Minneapolis educators in their strike! An injury to one is an injury to all! A victory for you is a victory for all of us!
Tempest hopes to run a full transcript of the March 3 event in the coming days. In the meantime, we highly encourage folks to watch and listen to the event.
- Greta Callahan, President of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Local 59
- Ma-Riah Roberson-Moody, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Educational Support Professionals First Vice-President
- Leah VanDassor, President of the St. Paul Federation of Educators Local 28;
- Jeff Garcia, member of SPFE Local 28;
- James Skretta, Starbucks Workers United in Buffalo, NY;
- Keith Brown, President of the Oakland Education Association;
- Cecily Myart-Cruz, President of the United Teachers of Los Angeles;
- Jen Johnson, Chief of Staff of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Emcee: Marcia Howard, member of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59, teacher at Roosevelt High School, and a community member of George Floyd Square.
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Darrin Hoop is a teacher in Seattle and a member of the Seattle Education Association and the Seattle Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators. In addition, he's a member of Tempest and helps lead National Educators United.