St. Paul educators voted for a strike. Here’s what that means

Members of the St. Paul teachers union protest outside Wells Fargo.
Members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers protested outside Wells Fargo's downtown St. Paul office in 2017. The St. Paul Federation of Educators said nearly two-thirds of its members voted Thursday and that 82 percent voted to authorize a strike.
Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News 2017

St. Paul Public School teachers and support staff voted on Thursday to authorize a strike.

The St. Paul Federation of Educators said in a news release that nearly two-thirds of its members voted Thursday and that 82 percent voted to authorize a strike.

When will teachers walk off the job?

A strike can still be averted if an agreement is reached between the district and union. There’s another mediation scheduled for March 5, and the union said it’s trying to get more mediation dates scheduled.

The union said it will announce a strike date next week. State law requires the union to give the district at least 10 days’ notice before the first day of a strike.

St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard said he’s instructed the district bargaining team to be ready “at a moment’s notice to continue mediation discussions.”

Will schools close? If so, what will happen to students?

The St. Paul Public School district said it will be able to provide additional details on the possibility of school closures once a strike date is announced.

What do the union and district disagree on?

The union said it is seeking better pay and benefits and a fully staffed mental health team in every building, as well as additional multilingual interpreters.

“No one wants to strike, but St. Paul educators are fed up," said Nick Faber, president of the union. "District leaders aren’t listening to the people who know our students best — the educators and parents who are with them every day.”

Superintendent Joe Gothard said in a statement that the district is offering wage increases in each of the two years of a new contract and investments of more than $1 million in additional student support positions. But he said the district is grappling with declining enrollment and underfunding from state and federal sources.

“The District is committed to negotiating in good faith until a contract can be agreed upon that is fair to our educators, equitable with other union contracts and is responsible to the taxpayers of St. Paul,” Gothard said in a statement.

Has this ever happened before?

The district and the union have been bargaining since May. Two years ago, the district narrowly averted a strike, which would have been the district's first since 1946.

Faber said the strike petition moved through St. Paul Public school buildings faster, collecting more signatures this year than it did two years ago. He said he wasn’t surprised to see that 82 percent of the members who voted yesterday were in favor of a strike.

“It’s an indication of how frustrated members are,” Faber said. “Every day they’re seeing what their students need in their classroom and those needs aren’t being taken seriously.”