Minneapolis teachers went on strike on Tuesday, stranding 29,000 students at home just as the COVID-19 school restrictions nationwide are beginning to ease.
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers declared the strike after negotiations with the city government broke down over the union’s demands to increase pay, reduce class sizes and provide additional pandemic mental health services. Classes for K-12 students in one of Minnesota’s largest school districts have been canceled as a result.
Union President Greta Cunningham said the strike was called “safe and stable schools.” She said the union is on strike “for our students” as well as for systemic change. She spoke to reporters at a union picket protest held on Tuesday.
The school district issued a statement saying that despite the disappointing news, it knows that the “mutual priorities” of the district and the union are based on a “deep commitment” to Minneapolis students. The district says it remains prepared to negotiate until the work stoppage is resolved.
The neighboring St. Paul School District narrowly avoided a strike based on similar demands when a tentative agreement was reached with the lead union Monday evening. When announcing the deal, St. Paul teachers union President Leah VanDassor said that it should not have required a strike vote and could have been reached much earlier, in her opinion.
St. Paul school district superintendent Joe Gothard said the new agreement was possible under the district’s current budget restraints. He said the deal “addresses the union’s priorities” and does not increase the already projected $42 million deficit for the coming school year. The agreement maintains class sizes and provides every union member with an immediate $2,000 bonus. Pay for entry-level support staff was increased and four additional school psychologists were recruited. Gothard said the extra money needed to pay for the agreement is expected to come from federal stimulus funds.
The strike in Minneapolis follows more than two years of interrupted education schedules, with delays in school re-opening leading to additional online teaching. No timetable for the end of the strike has been established.