Voting closes Thursday for teacher strikes in Minneapolis, St. Paul

St. Paul teachers go on strike.
Strikers during the 2020 teacher's strike in St. Paul. Teachers in both St. Paul and Minneapolis are voting on whether to authorize a strike.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

Updated: Feb. 18, 8:14 a.m. | Posted: Feb 17, 11:32 a.m.

Nearly 8,000 teachers and staff in both Minneapolis and St. Paul public school districts may soon call a strike. Educational unions have undergone voting this week on whether or not to authorize walking off the job. Voting ends Thursday night. 

In St. Paul

Last week, the St. Paul union’s executive board unanimously voted to authorize a strike vote. St. Paul, the second-largest district in the state, has been in the midst of negotiations since May and in mediation since December.

On Thursday, St. Paul teachers, education assistants and community service professionals in the union are set to vote on whether or not to authorize the strike. They need 50 percent “yes” votes in order to move forward.

Union leaders are asking for limits on class sizes, better mental health support and wage increases. In a statement, the union said it’s focused on protecting the future of public education and that this strike vote is not a decision they took lightly, but a necessary step to reach a settlement with the district.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

If the strike is authorized, it would empower the union’s bargaining team to call a strike. They would first begin a mediation session, telling the district in writing when the strike would start. Then would follow a 10-day “cooling off period” before teachers could walk off the job. If an agreement is reached during that window, the strike would be called off. 

The school district’s rebuttal involved a $42.8 million shortfall due to losses in student enrollment. 

“At the end of the day, it really comes down to dollars and cents. Like everyone’s personal budget, the district cannot spend more than it takes in. As a district, we simply do not have the budget to support the wage increases and additional staff and other supports that [the union] is asking for,” said Superintendent Joe Gothard. 

St. Paul specifically received 206.9 million dollars in COVID relief funds as part of the American Rescue Plan. Gothard said some of that money has been spent on additional counselors, nurses and social workers, as well as training for staff in trauma response. They’ve also used some funds to recruit and retain staff of color and enhance programs for English language learners. Gothard says if they use it to hire more permanent staff or increase wages across the board, they won’t be able to do that beyond September 2024. 

St. Paul educators last held a strike in March of 2020.

In Minneapolis

Minneapolis teacher union members have been voting on whether to authorize a strike since Monday. They wrap up their polling process Thursday and need 50 plus one percent of their total membership to vote “yes” in order for the strike to go forward. 

Even if Minneapolis meets the threshold for a strike, it doesn’t guarantee there will be one. The union is required to give the district notice before a 10-day “cooling-off period.”

The Minneapolis demands are similar to St. Paul’s. Union leaders are asking the district, the third-largest in Minnesota, to raise pay for teachers and education support professionals, reduce class sizes, remedy special education caseloads, designate teachers to work with quarantined students and increase mental health supports for students.

Minneapolis district leaders say the union’s proposals for pay increases were “not fiscally feasible.” They say they can offer union members a salary package of $20.2 million over two years but can’t meet the request to increase the current package by more than $110 million over two years.

The last time Minneapolis public school teachers held a strike was decades ago, in 1970.

Correction (Feb. 18, 2022): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the timeframe of the “cooling off period” and how long the St. Paul Federation of Educators has been in negotiations. The article has been updated.