Teachers and education support staff in both the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts have voted to authorize a strike.
The authorization votes don't necessarily trigger a strike — union leaders would need to formally notify their districts if they determine one is necessary. State law requires the unions to give the district at least 10 days' notice before the first day of the strike.
With cheers and hugs, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) reported Thursday that 98% of support staff and 97% of teachers voted to approve a strike, with a turnout of well over 90% of union members.
Teachers in St. Paul also authorized a strike in a vote Thursday. The action came almost two years after the St. Paul Federation of Educators went on strike in March 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed schools into distance learning.
More than 78% of St. Paul Federation of Educators voted to strike. Nearly two-thirds of the approximately 3,680 members voted Thursday, including all three SPFE bargaining groups — teachers, educational assistants, and school and community service professionals.
"No one wants to strike, but district leaders haven't budged and even want to backtrack on the investments our students need," said Leah VanDassor, president of the St. Paul Federation of Educators. "The last two years have been hard on everyone. It has also shown us students need even more support, not less. The short-term sacrifice of a strike is worth it so our students have the schools they deserve for years to come."
Negotiations in both districts have dragged on for months, stalled over concerns about wages, student mental health supports, class size and efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color.
The teachers union in Minneapolis is pushing to increase starting wages for education support professionals to $35,000 from $24,000.
Shaun Laden, president of the Educational Support Professionals chapter of MFT, praised his group for its participation.
"The historic turnout proves our members have a sense of their collective power and feel the status quo is unacceptable," he said.
On Monday, Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff sent a letter to families saying MFT's proposals were not "fiscally feasible."
"While a teacher strike is the last thing we want to consider, we know that we are a resilient community that can and will work together on behalf of student learning," Graff said in the letter.
In a statement on Friday, the district said it has requested additional mediation sessions beyond the three that were scheduled with the union.
"We believe we have shared values with MFT, and it is MPS' goal to address the needs of our students and educators," the statement read.
Joe Gothard, superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools, said in a news conference last week that declining enrollment has further stressed the district's finances and it cannot support the wage increases and additional supports that the SPFE is asking for.
In a statement sent Friday, Gothard said the work of educators has never been harder than during the pandemic because students' needs have increased alongside severe staffing shortages. He is directing union and district leadership to do "whatever it takes" to avoid a strike, which he believes is not in the best interest of students, families or staff, the statement said.
"Now more than ever, our community needs to come together and support each other," Gothard said.
The St. Paul school board also released a statement urging both sides to continue negotiating toward an agreement.
The Minneapolis teachers union had a mediation session with the district Friday and will meet again Tuesday. St. Paul also has mediation scheduled for Tuesday.