St. Paul school employees vote to strike, plan rally Tuesday

AFSCME Local 844 members rallied before a school board meeting in July 2022.

St. Paul Public Schools’ clerical and technical workers have voted to authorize a strike, and members of AFSCME Local 844 plan to rally tomorrow at district headquarters in advance of the school board meeting.

Contract talks covering 265 workers began in April, but the district has refused to meet union members’ demands on wages, training, remote work and other issues.

“One and a half percent just isn’t enough,” Local 844 President Martin Hoerth said of the wage package included in the district’s last offer. “Our health insurance is going up 9%. We have issues with retention, and one of the reasons is we have quite a few job titles where people are having to work two jobs, three jobs to make it work.”

The local represents office, accounting and payroll clerks, as well as distribution workers, processing specialists, student placement workers, occupational therapy assistants, technology services workers and others.

The district filed for mediation over the summer after nine bargaining sessions, and the two sides have met once since then.

Other outstanding union demands include “onboarding” of new staff, so workers understand their options when it comes to benefits. The district eliminated the service at the start of the pandemic, Hoerth said.

“They just hope and pray people sign up for their insurance and other benefits,” he added.

AFSCME members also want the same accommodations – and compensation – as other employee groups when it comes to working in person on days when schools switch to remote learning due to extreme weather.

“They’ve negotiated with educators how they will work from home, and with custodians what they get for coming in,” Hoerth said. “We’re asking to be treated the same.”

Union members voted overwhelmingly to reject the district’s last offer and authorize a strike, but Local 844 has not yet set a strike date. State law requires the union to notify SPPS at least 10 days before a strike begins.

Hoerth said the bargaining team would wait until after their next mediation session, scheduled Oct. 24, to make a decision about a potential strike.

Meanwhile, workers are hoping for a show of public support both at the rally and at the school board meeting afterward. Local 844 plans to start the rally at 5 p.m. outside the district offices at 360 Colburne St. S., where board members will receive public comment at 5:30 p.m.

AFSCME stands for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is an AFL-CIO affiliate.

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