St. Paul teachers union head wins national post

Mary Ricker will take St. Paul’s lessons to national debate on education.

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Mary Ricker of the St. Paul teachers union was appointed executive VP by the American Federation of Teachers.

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Mary Cathryn Ricker, who as head of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers took her union advocacy all the way to the picket lines in Chicago, is the new executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Her election was announced at the union’s convention in Los Angeles on Monday, and will result in Ricker stepping down this month as president of the St. Paul union representing 3,300 teachers. She will be replaced by current Vice President Denise Rodriguez.

Ricker will serve alongside AFT President Randi Weingarten, who won re-election, and Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson in the top ranks of the national organization.

“I am energized by the mandate the members of the American Federation of Teachers have given me and the rest of the leadership team,” Ricker said in a statement.

Said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht, “Mary Cathryn has been a tireless and innovative advocate for the students of St. Paul. She will be missed by everyone who cares about public education in Minnesota. However, in this case, our loss is the gain of educators and working people throughout the United States.”

Earlier this year, Ricker and local union leaders negotiated a new two-year contract with the St. Paul School District that reflected the federation’s desire for a multifaceted agreement that it said would take union-district relations into the 21st century.

The agreement went beyond traditional wage-and-benefit increases to include limits on class sizes and requirements that the district hire 42 new full-time positions, including social workers, nurses, media specialists and elementary school counselors.

The union’s goals were part of a 34-page blueprint, “The Schools St. Paul Children Deserve,” which drew on community support as well as inspiration from a similar document crafted by Chicago teachers, who went on strike in 2012.

Ricker was among the Twin Cities area leaders who went to Chicago to support the teachers there. Earlier this year, as she reflected on the experience, she recalled being moved by the strong ties between that union and the local community. Earlier in 2012, before Ricker went to Chicago, the St. Paul union had cultivated community support to help win concessions in class sizes and special-education caseloads. But, Ricker said, the partnership then seemed more like a “work in progress.” After Chicago, she was eager to see “what it could look like if we dove in.”

The seven goals crafted as part of the resulting St. Paul blueprint included “smaller classes,” “family engagement” and “teaching, not testing.”

Rodriguez has stepped in at times as a union spokeswoman, and was a staunch advocate of the ideas in the union document. Last summer, when asked about the “constellation” of contract proposals beyond money, she said: “Does that surprise you that we’re not focused on wages and benefits?”

She is a Spanish teacher at Ramsey Middle School and will serve the remainder of Ricker’s term, which expires in June 2015.

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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