More Twin Cities workers are making preparations for a possible strike.
The union representing nearly 400 para-educators in the Mounds View Public Schools today announced its members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a 24-hour strike if contract negotiations continue to stall.
Para-educators are the first district employees to take a strike vote in 40 years, according to their union, Local 284 of the Service Employees International Union.
“It’s sad we had to go this route,” said Local 284 member Melissa Grewe, who works with special-ed students at Reach Academy. “But we’re united, we’re standing together and we’re hopeful we can get this done.”
Bargaining with the district began nine months ago, but for union members, progress has been slow on key issues like affordable health insurance.
Para-educators pay a greater share of health-insurance premiums than other bargaining units in the district. Equity, para-educator Cathy Springhorn said, is long overdue.
“Paras are the people who always put others before themselves,” Springhorn said. “But now we’re standing up in a way we never have before. We deserve to get the same health insurance as everyone else, and we need the tools to make sure every student reaches their highest potential.”
Para-educators also are fighting the school district’s attempt to eliminate a provision allowing them to spread their pay over 12 months.
Other union demands reflect the changing nature of para-educators’ work.
Before bargaining began last June, Local 284 circulated surveys asking members to list their top concerns. Many said they lacked the time needed to keep up with new responsibilities, like third-party billing, communicating with families and filling out reports. Others felt they could better serve students with more time to plan and collaborate with teachers.
Contract proposals developed out of those concerns, Grewe said, have gone nowhere in negotiations so far.
“We have no time built into our day to get these tasks done, so a lot of people are either doing them after school on their own time or during their break time, their lunch time,” she said. “It’s frustrating, and members don’t feel respected or valued by the district.
“I think that shows by the number of people who came out to vote.”
About 90% of union members participated in the strike-authorization vote, held at school facilities earlier this week, and 80.7% voted “yes,” according to the union. Grewe said she hopes district leaders got the message.
“Come to the table and actually bargaining with us,” she said. “We do this because we love kids. And with a fair contract, we can make the kids’ experience even better than what it is.”
Para-educators have not set a strike date. They are required to provide the district with 10-days notice before going on strike.
The two sides are scheduled to resume mediated talks March 31.
Some 4,000 janitors across the metro and 3,600 St. Paul educators are in last-ditch negotiations this week. If they are unable to reach an agreement, janitors plan to begin an open-ended strike over unfair labor practices March 9. Educators would begin their strike a day later.