The union representing over 3,600 teachers, educational assistants, licensed professionals and other staff in the St. Paul Public Schools will hold a strike-authorization vote Feb. 20, leaders announced Wednesday.
In an e-mail to community supporters, members of the St. Paul Federation of Educators’ negotiating team said the union’s executive board called the strike vote in a unanimous vote last night.
“This decision was not made lightly, but we are certain that a strike vote is necessary if we hope to reach a settlement with the district that respects our students’ needs and honors our educators’ voices,” the e-mail says. “After nearly a year of negotiating, the District still isn’t taking our student-centered proposals seriously and has refused to have any real discussion around educator pay and benefits.”
Before the vote takes place, SPFE will hold an information session for parents to discuss what its bargaining proposals are – and why educators are willing to strike for them. The session will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at the union’s headquarters, located at 23 Empire Dr., St. Paul.
Additionally, SPFE is encouraging members, parents and community supporters to attend the district’s Feb. 18 school board meeting, hoping a last-ditch appeal to board members – many of whom were elected with labor endorsement – will lead to movement at the bargaining table.
Talks between SPPS and SPFE began last May. Union members offered 31 proposals based on the needs identified by educators, parents and other stakeholders. But the district refused to respond to most of them, and the two sides entered mediation in December.
Union proposals look to expand on gains made in recent contract campaigns, which focused on “building the schools St. Paul students deserve.” Educators’ top priorities would increase mental-health supports for their students, reduce special-ed caseloads and expand families’ access to multilingual services.
Rank-and-file union members signaled “overwhelming support” for those priorities – and for calling a strike vote – in petitions circulated throughout the district’s 65-plus buildings, according to union leaders.
“SPFE is dedicated to building the schools that Saint Paul students deserve, and the profession that Saint Paul educators deserve, and we will continue to fight for those principles,” union leaders said in the e-mail. “We hope that you’ll stand with us.”
Two years ago, SPFE members voted to authorize a strike before negotiators reached a contract settlement.
The last time educators in St. Paul went on strike, in fact, was the first time educators anywhere in the U.S. organized a union strike. St. Paul teachers made history with a 30-day walkout between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 1946, winning sizable pay increases and prodding the City Council to distribute education resources more equitably to the city’s schools.
Striking educators declared it “Strike for Better Schools,” and as SPFE members are likely to confirm Feb. 20, it’s a rallying cry that continues to echo over 73 years later.