The threat of a union strike vote is now hanging over teacher contract talks in the Anoka-Hennepin district.
Union and district officials have met 14 times since May without reaching agreement on a pay and benefits package for teachers. The sides are meeting today for their third session with a state mediator.
If there isn't headway during today's talks, union officials say they will meet Monday and may decide to allow the district's 2,800 teachers to vote on a potential strike.
"Unsettled contracts are a big distraction to teachers," said local union president Julie Blaha. "Frankly they're a big distraction to the entire community. We want our teachers to have 100 percent of their attention on their students."
Anoka-Hennepin teachers have been working 240 days without a contract, she added.
In January, Anoka-Hennepin teachers told the district they would no longer work after-hours, citing the slow pace of negotiations. The "work to rule" action means teachers will only fulfill the duties spelled out in their contract, and only during the regular workday.
Reaching a financially responsible settlement is the district's highest priority, Anoka-Hennepin district spokesperson Mary Olson said in a statement. "We will continue to meet in good faith."
Less than a week ago, a strike vote by teachers in St. Paul was avoided when the union and district agreed to a tentative contract. The deal, which has yet to be approved by teachers and the school board, lowers class sizes, increases hiring of support staff, and offers teachers a pay increase of about 2 percent in the next two years. Teacher will vote on the offer on Monday. The school board takes up the issue on March 18.
The statewide teachers union, Education Minnesota, said 54 percent of the 352 local bargaining units in the state have reached contract agreements with their districts. The average salary increase is 2 percent in each of the contracts' two years.