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MFT pickets at Justice Page Middle School

Members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers began their first strike in 52 years, walking picket lines March 8, here at Justice Page Middle School.

Minneapolis educators begin strike, schools shut down

March 9, 2022

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Teachers and Education Support Professionals began walking picket lines March 8 at 7:30 a.m. across the city at Minneapolis Public Schools locations, shutting down the schools.

“We’re on strike for safe and stable schools… for the future of our city, for the future of the Minneapolis Public Schools,” said Greta Callahan, president of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59, speaking at an early morning news conference March 8 outside Justice Page Middle School, as MFT members picketed around the corner.

“We are going to be on strike to do whatever it takes,” said Shaun Laden, president of MFT’s Educational Support Professionals Chapter.

The strike began 19 days after MFT announced the results of a four-day strike authorization vote February 17, reporting that 97 percent of teachers voted to authorize a strike while 98 percent of ESPs voted to strike. The voter turnout was 96 percent for teachers and 93 percent for ESPs.

Contract negotiations for the teachers and ESPs have stretched out for more than one year, including 120 hours with the participation of a mediator.

For teachers and ESPs, the main issues include pay raises — especially for the ESPs — limiting class sizes, and increasing mental health support for students.

As for the school district, “they’re not moving on any of our issues,” Callahan said.

“What they’re currently doing isn’t working,” Callahan said. “They’re driving families out of our district. They’re driving educators out of our district.”

Greta Callahan and Shawn Laden
Greta Callahan (left), president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, and Shaun Laden (right), president of the MFT Educational Support Professionals chapter

State and national teachers union leaders also spoke at the news conference, announcing their support for the striking Minneapolis educators.

“Their fight is our fight. Their challenges are our challenges,” said Denise Specht,  president of Education Minnesota, saying that the statewide teachers union’s 90,000 members “stand in solidarity with the educators of MFT 59.”

“We will fight together for as long as it takes,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association — the nation’s largest union with three million members. Kringle said she would be in Minneapolis for the duration of the strike.

“We will stand with our members and parents and kids,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, with 1.7 million members nationwide. “In Minneapolis, class sizes are too high. The salaries for ESPs, they’re way too low. ESPs need a living wage in Minneapolis.” She added, “how do you attract black and brown teachers if you don’t pay a living wage?”

“I’ve watched ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ in the Twin Cities,” Weingarten said, noting that the Saint Paul Public Schools reached a last-minute contract settlement late on March 7 with the Saint Paul Federation of Educators, averting a strike which also would have begun March 8.

The last time Minneapolis educators went on strike was 52 years ago, in April of 1970.

“I was on this very spot 52 years ago when MFT went on strike,” said retired teacher Louise Sundin. “At that time… I was in my third year of teaching.” Sundin went on to become a longtime president of MFT. Back in 1970, she told reporters, Minnesota law prohibited teachers from striking. “The minute we hit the sidewalk we lost our jobs,” she said. Teachers won important gains from the strike, however, including a change a change in state law with the enactment of the Public Employees Labor Relations Act, which established important worker rights for public employees across the state and remains in effect today.

Left to right: Louise Sundin, participant in 1970 MFT strike and former MFT president; Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers; Becky Pringle, president of National Education Association.

Negotiations with the school district continued as the strike began.

Going forward, MFT planned picketing at school sites from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. each day of the strike.

March 8 MFT also planned a 12 noon rally and march for all members and supporters, with similar large actions planned for the afternoons as long as the strike continues, including a March 9 rally at 1:00 p.m. at the State Capitol.

For more information from MFT about the strike, including solidarity actions, visit www.safeandstableschools.org.

Click here to donate to a strike fund administered by Working Partnerships, the community services arm of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

MFT supporters, including students, joined picketing outside Lake Harriet Community School's upper campus on the first day of the strike.

Related stories:
With strike votes coming, Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers and educators ralllied and marched together (February 13, 2022)

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