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Teachers in Minneapolis are on strike after failing to reach an agreement

ST. Paul, Min. – Teachers in the Minneapolis school district left their jobs on Tuesday due to a dispute over salaries, class sizes and mental health support for students struggling with a two-year coronavirus pandemic, at least temporarily stopping classes for about 29,000 students in one of Minnesota’s largest school districts.

Members of the union said they could not reach an agreement on salaries, especially a “living wage” for education professionals, as well as class size limits and more mental health services for students.

“We are on strike for safe and stable schools, we are on strike for systemic change, we are on strike for our students, the future of our city and the future of Minneapolis public schools,” said Greta Cunningham, president of the Minneapolis Teachers’ Federation. a primary school in southern Minneapolis, where more than 100 union members and supporters launched a morning picket line in frosty weather.

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The school district called the news disappointing, but promised to continue negotiations. Callahan said the union is also ready to resume negotiations, but no talks are planned.

Teachers in the neighboring St. Paul’s school district, with about 34,000 students, announced a preliminary agreement late Monday night to prevent a strike, which was also set to begin on Tuesday.

Trade union officials in both cities said the problems were largely the same. The St. Paul’s Teachers’ Union said their preliminary agreement – subject to approval by members – includes maintaining class size limits, increased mental health support and increased pay.

“This agreement could have been reached much earlier. There was no need to vote for a strike, but we got there, “said local union president Leah Van Dassor in a statement on the deal.

St. Paul’s Superintendent Joe Gotthard said the agreements were fair while working within the area’s budget constraints.

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Government mediators facilitated negotiations between administrators and union leaders in both counties.

National labor leaders say teachers and support staff across the country are facing the same challenges of congestion and burnout due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but no other major area has been on the brink of strike. School district officials said they were already facing budget deficits due to enrollment losses resulting from the pandemic and could not spend money they did not have.

The possibility of a strike earlier weighs on parents who are already stretched by the end of the pandemic.

Erin Zelinski’s daughter, Sybil, is a first-grader at the Armatage Community School in southwestern Minneapolis. She and her husband support the teachers, although she said she was worried about the union’s demands being sustainable.

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Zelinski said her family was lucky. She and her husband can count on support from their parents during the strike, and although he had to return to the office, she still has some flexibility to work remotely. Her plan if the teachers go on strike? “Survival,” she said, and laughed.

“Somehow you become immune to it, between distance learning and home school, unfortunately it’s already a way of life,” she said. “My husband and I will bring him together.”

For schools in St. Paul, Gotthard outlined the proposals in a statement Sunday night, saying the district had proposed adding a language to the contract to keep the average class size at their current levels, hiring an additional four school psychologists, a one-time cash payment. $ 2,000 for each union employee using federal incentive funds and to increase the pay of the lowest paid education assistants.

“This comprehensive settlement proposal addresses the union’s priorities, does not add to the projected budget deficit of $ 42 million next year, and most importantly, supports our students, teachers and classroom staff,” Gotthard wrote.

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Minneapolis has about 3,265 teachers, while St. Paul has about 3,250 teachers. The average annual salary for teachers in St. Paul is over $ 85,000, while in Minneapolis it is over $ 71,000. However, there are also hundreds of lower paid auxiliary workers in the districts, who often say they do not receive a living wage, and these workers have been the main focus of the talks. The Minneapolis union is seeking a starting salary of $ 35,000 for education professionals, with union officials saying it is essential to hire and retain people of color.

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Associated Press writer Doug Glass contributed from Minneapolis.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Teachers in Minneapolis are on strike after failing to reach an agreement

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