Workers, parents show unity with St. Paul teachers after strike vote

A solidarity rally outside the SPFT strike vote drew parents and supporters from other unions. (photo credit: MN Workers United)

Members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers yesterday delivered a powerful message of unity in their drive for a contract that delivers the fully funded, racially equitable schools St. Paul students deserve.

Parents and working people in the district, meanwhile, delivered a message of their own: It’s time for the school district to start listening to educators.

Several unions representing thousands of working people in St. Paul offered up statements of solidarity with SPFT members.

They included Teamsters Local 320, which represents more than 100 Nutrition Services workers in the St. Paul Public Schools. In a letter to the school board and administrators, Secretary-Treasurer Brian Aldes noted that teachers stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Local 320 member fighting for a $15 wage floor last fall.

“It’s time for the District to support its employees and drop the adversarial approach to negotiations,” Aldes wrote. “If the St. Paul Teachers go on strike against the District, please know that they will have the full support of Teamsters Local 320 and its 11,500 strong membership.”

Presidents of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, the Minnesota Nurses Association and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees weighed in with letters to the district as well. Together, the labor groups represent more than 80,000 union members.

“These are moments when leaders need to step up and lead,” MNA President Mary Turner wrote. “And I am urging you to do just that.”

Bobby Kasper, president of the 50,000-member St. Paul RLF, called the district’s approach to negotiations “incredibly disappointing.”

“Our schools work best when educators are valued and their concerns are heard,” Kasper wrote. “Today’s strike vote is a clear indication that isn’t happening… We hope today’s vote serves as a wake-up call to district leaders that it’s time to get serious about negotiations.”

SPFT held its strike-authorization vote at a downtown hotel yesterday, drawing participation from about two-thirds of it 3,700 members. The union represents three bargaining units in negotiations: community service professionals, educational assistants and teachers and licensed staff. All three overwhelmingly backed strike authorization, with over 80 percent support.

The union planned to file notice of members’ intent to strike today, and a work stoppage could begin as early as mid-February.

The two sides have scheduled a return to mediated talks tomorrow. Teachers said they will continue to push for smaller class sizes, restorative practices, support for English language learners, more nurses and librarians and other measures aimed at improving student outcomes and tackling racial disparities.

Support for language programs is among SPFT’s core bargaining proposals.

“Our members are ready to tackle the racial disparities that exist in our schools and in our community, but they need the resources in order to get that done,” SPFT President Nick Faber told hundreds of people gathered for a rally downtown St. Paul Monday. “But our district has refused to talk to us about many of these issues.”

Teachers also aren’t giving up on efforts to build new partnerships with corporations like Ecolab and U.S. Bank that avoid paying property taxes in St. Paul, as well as large nonprofits like Allina Health and Macalester that benefit from property-tax exemptions.

Parents like Kirinda Anderson, whose daughter attends Wellstone Elementary, want the district to team up with teachers and get serious about holding corporate tax-dodgers accountable for draining resources from public schools.

“Instead of going to our schools, our money is going to tax breaks for companies like Ecolab and U.S. Bank,” Anderson said at Monday’s rally. “When they don’t pay their fair share of taxes, they’re depriving our children – kids like my daughter – the education that all children need to be successful… I’m going to call it what it is, and that’s systemic racism.”

“Nobody wants a strike,” Faber added. “None of our members wants to walk away from our students, but sometimes it is the only way workers have to get management to listen.”

Trackbacks

  1. […] today, negotiations between SPFT and the district were the most heated in years, with union members voting overwhelmingly Jan. 31 in favor of authorizing a strike. Faber called the strike authorization “an awesome responsibility and an awesome piece of […]

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