MINNEAPOLIS — Over 1,000 teachers and supporters marched and rallied here Feb. 12 in subzero temperatures. The action took place leading up to a strike vote by teachers and support staff in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The unions in both cities have been negotiating for months over similar demands — smaller class sizes; hiring more support staff, including mental health support; and wage increases. Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 and St. Paul Federation of Educators Local 28 are asking for a pay increase to make up for over 20 years of no or low increases. Minneapolis educational support staff are asking for a starting wage of $35,000, up from their current annual wage of $24,000. They are also fighting against moves by district officials to end all limits on class size.
St. Paul School District officials say they don’t have enough money to increase staff or wages, even though they received $206.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
At the beginning of the march, Teamsters Local 120 members served hot beverages and food to the teachers from their truck. That local represents Marathon Petroleum refinery workers, who were locked out in a bitter fight last year.
“People may not want to vote for a strike because it will be a hardship for them, but we have to fight this fight for our kids,” St. Paul teacher Leah Stern told the Militant. “We need to make a living wage.”
Students today are dealing with isolation at home from school closings ordered because of COVID, online classes and a recent spike in violence. Deshaun Hill Jr., North High School’s quarterback, was shot and killed while walking home from school. Hours later, a school bus driver was hit in the face by a bullet while driving three young children.
“We’re constantly asked to do more for less. There’s not enough support staff, and many of our staff are working other jobs. There are three social workers in a school of 900 students,” Brian Dean, a teacher in the North Minneapolis school district, told the Militant. “Mental health for our students is crucial. These kids are dealing with real trauma and violence”
Both Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers’ strike votes are set to end Feb. 17.