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Minneapolis Educational Support Professionals rally for wages and respect

ESP march
Following a June 12 rally in the parking lot of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers’ building, ESPs and supporters marched and chanted outside the room where school district negotiators were meeting with the ESP bargaining team.

Updated from the Minneapols Labor Review, June 28, 2019

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Inside, negotiators from the Minneapolis Public Schools were meeting with the bargaining team from the district’s Educational Support Professionals. Outside, several hundred ESPs and supporters were marching and making one heck of a lot of noise.

“1, 2, 3, 4 — we know what we’re fighting for! 5, 6, 7, 8 — because our students just can’t wait!”

The June 12 rally outside Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 offices came as the MFT’s ESP chapter is in the midst of negotiations for a new contract. Five additional negotiating sessions are planned for July and August.
The June 12 crowd of community members, school parents and union members filled the MFT parking lot.

“It looks to me like today is a great day for Minneapolis Public Schools,” said Stephanie Gasca, school parent, addressing the crowd. She highlighted the need for educators to look like their students. And, in the Minneapolis schools’ diverse district, the ESPs bring added diversity to the staff of educators.

For all the good ESPs bring to students and the schools, however, the district isn’t valuing ESPs, speakers said.

“Administrators are constantly saying they can’t run the schools without ESPs, but they don’t pay us that way,” said Shaun Laden, ESP chapter president.  “We have educators on public assistance; some are homeless. We’re vital to the operation of the schools. Our pay needs to reflect that.”

“ESPs across the district are stuck in an endless poverty cycle,” said Ma-Riah Roberson Moody, special education assistant at Roosevelt High School and ESP bargaining team member. ESPs are working two to three jobs, she said. They’re living paycheck to paycheck, deciding between bills and groceries.

“Let’s stand together, rise, and make sure we get a raise,” Moody said.

Shaun Laden, president of MFT Local 59’s ESP chapter (left) and Brittany Blenkush, teacher at Roosevelt High School (right).

“The district tries to pits us against each other,” said Brittany Blenkush, teacher at Roosevelt High. “It is not either–or,” she insisted. “The politics of division is false.”|

“The district will tell us they do not have enough money, that someone else will need to give something up,” Blenkush said. “We can afford to do right by ESPs… Scarcity is a myth.”

All across the nation, educators have been challenging school districts to increase wages, going on strike, and winning wage gains.  “We are inspired by the wave of educator action around the country,” Blenkush said.

“Parents across the district will stand with you,” said Sarah Greenfield, parent of a Minneapolis Schools first grade student. She told a story about how her child’s ESP noticed one day that the first-grader was having trouble breathing — and rushed to get the girl help. That day emphasized, for Greenfield, just how important ESPs are in the classroom. “I know your working conditions are her learning conditions,” she said. “Thank you for fighting for great public schools in Minneapolis.”

Minneapolis Schools parent Jen Bertolatus said she was “shocked” to learn how poorly the district pays ESPs and the staff of Minneapolis Kids (the district’s before school and after school childcare program). “I want the educators who support my kids to receive fair pay and have affordable health care… I want them to only have to work one job, so they can be focused and alert and attentive for my kids.”

“Our ESPs deserve respect and dignity,” said Brenda Johnson, ESP at Stadium View school. “We’re not going to ask for a raise. We’re going to demand it… It’s a national movement to get the respect we deserve.”

Other speakers at the rally came from AFSCME, SEIU, the Minnesota Nurses Association. “In times like these, it’s more important than ever that the labor movement fights together,” said Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.

Ma-Riah Roberson Moody
Ma-Riah Roberson Moody, Roosevelt High ESP and ESP bargaining team member.


Related story:
Kindergarten teacher explains why ESP is so important in classroom


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