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Minneapolis Teachers: No Trust in Mediation, Build the Strike Fund, Prep for Strike Now

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Jason Hardwig is a shop steward in the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 writing in personal capacity.

Both teachers and education professionals chapters of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 have filed for mediation, taking a big step towards preparing itself for the need to build a powerful strike. We are now much more enabled to act and plan as unified chapters! We could all potentially strike together as early as mid-April, giving us options as we move forward. But there’s much more to do to win our demand for 30% raises and automatic steps for ESPs and 16% raises for teachers plus long overdue pay parity for Adult Education staff.

The Democratic Party controlled school board’s counter offers to both chapters’ demands are essentially pay cuts:raises” of 3% and 2% over two years that will be canceled after inflation takes its bite. The lowest paid ESPs currently make around $18.02/hour. Meanwhile the school board just gave the superintendent a 15% raise.

They are trying to privatize the public schools by driving out educators through poverty wages and driving out students through budget cuts. Our power to change this comes from our ability to strike, not mediation. Mediation is historically a hostile process for workers. Mediation sessions are closed to the public and the state mediator is an unelected bureaucrat. The mediator for the teachers has already demanded that negotiation updates be withheld from our members before sessions can proceed.

But in Minnesota, a “blue state”, it is the Democrats who are most to blame for the sorry state of public education. They control the Governor’s mansion, the legislature, the City Council, and the School Board. What do the lowest paid ESPs who door knocked for Governor Walz twice now have to show for it when many of them still make less than $20 an hour in a city where average rents gobble up half of their income? Democrats can’t blame Republicans for underfunded schools because there are hardly any Republicans around. 

This reliance on the Democrats results in at least hundreds of millions of dollars in lost money for schools annually because they will not take on corporations and their tax lawyers. At best we get inadequate reforms that don’t solve the crisis. The very weak tax reform reporting law passed this past summer in the state showed the immense amount of money that big business in the state keeps from the public. That law alone has accounted for an uptick in the state surplus form $2.4 billion to $3.7 billion! 

If a true all out fight against these billionaire businesses were to be led by strike-ready workers and a party they could trust, closing down all the loopholes and raising rates, there would be more than enough money to fully fund not only schools, but also to launch affordable housing initiatives, more public transportation, and expanded public health care. To prepare for a Yes vote to strike and movement we in MFT must:

  • Throw away all new union T-shirts that have only one chapter logo on them, which shows divisions to the bosses, and reprint newly minted strike-ready T-Shirts that have both our chapters’ logos boldly displayed on them, united for our 2024 campaign!
  • Not rely on passive hopes in mediation and prepare with strike teams in every building to reject any weak offers to either chapter and to refuse to settle any deals until both our chapters are made whole with our wage demands. 
  • Demand all levels of government – city, county and state – tax profiteering corporations to fully fund schools, affordable housing, and social services.
  • ​​Call for joint demos between all the unions that have contracts expiring in 2024 and link up demands with common days of action including fights for new contracts that expire on or around May 1st 2028 – the day autoworkers have called for a general strike against billionaires!
  • Arm every member now with easy to use QR codes that link people to a strike fund donation page, our demands and our analysis of the board’s budget so we can reach out in coordinated teams to families and tell the real story of this year’s budget. We should knock on their doors, phone up parents and send out mass texts. Pledge to join our pickets, pledge to donate today, defend Public Education and Schools in MPLS!
  • Send members in trained teams to local unions to make appeals for contributions to our strike fund, pledges of attendance to our rallies and pickets, to pass resolutions of support and use social media to boost our signals.
  • Continue to build all member CAT meetings and bargaining update meetings during mediation. Raise the alarm in our umbrella unions (Education Minnesota, National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers) to demand that they back stop our strike fund as well as St Paul’s campaign. It’s in the interest of all public school districts nationwide to support and see a big win for Metro educators! Rally with St. Paul educators in joint actions!

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