St. Paul teachers voted to authorize a strike. Here’s what that means

People walk out of a building
Members of the St. Paul Federation of Educators on Thursday exited the Carpenters Local Union 322 in St. Paul, authorizing a strike against St. Paul Public Schools.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

St. Paul Public Schools 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 92 percent voted to authorize a strike.

As mediated negotiations continue, here are the basics on where things stand.

When will teachers walk off the job?

A strike can still be averted if an agreement is reached between the district and union. There are still two more mediation sessions scheduled over the next two weeks, on Feb. 23 and March 1. Both parties have said they want to work out a settlement and avoid a strike.

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The union, which represents close to 3,700 teachers, educational assistants and school and community service professionals, could announce a strike date as early as next week. State law requires the union to give the district at least 10 days’ notice before the first day of a strike.

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

If teachers strike, normal school and class schedules for some 33,000 students will be interrupted. The district has not announced any measures around what would happen if educators strike. In an emailed statement, the district it said it does not “believe a strike is necessary in order to meet the needs of our students, families and staff.”

What do the union and district disagree on?

Both the union and district said they have made progress in their mediated negotiation sessions.

In the most recent session, the union said there had been good discussions on special education proposals. But the two sides remain far apart on wages, benefits and other important sticking points.

The district said the main unresolved issues are tied to “wages, health insurance and other proposals that have significant costs” and that the district still faced a $108 million budget shortfall for next year.

Union president Leah VanDassor says the district received “a lot of extra funding this year from the state,” and that union members are “fed up with just not seeing the changes that need to be made in our classrooms.”

Has this ever happened before?

In 2020, St. Paul educators held a three-day strike.

Two years ago, they authorized a strike, but were able to resolve a contract with the district before walking out.

This year, the same number of educators participated in the strike authorization vote, but a significantly higher percentage — more than 92 percent — were in favor of striking.

“We’re not backing down, we’re not changing our minds, we’re not shifting gears. Our membership is saying go for it,” VanDassor said.

Where are other districts at with their negotiations?

St. Paul educators are not the only ones in Minnesota working without a contract since July of last year.  Earlier this week, the state teachers union, Education Minnesota, said just over 60 percent of its 328 local unions have reached agreements with districts. That’s an unusually slow place for contract settlements, the slowest it’s been in 20 years.

But some, like Anoka-Hennepin, the state’s largest school district, have managed to negotiate agreements. Others, like the Minneapolis Public Schools, are in ongoing mediation.