This week, members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Local 59 (MFT 59), the union representing Minneapolis Public Schools teachers, related service professionals, and education support professionals (ESPs) are voting on whether to authorize a strike after contract negotiations stalled with the district. Voting for MFT 59 started Feb. 14 and closes Feb. 17. St. Paul Schools teachers are also voting on whether to authorize a strike on Feb. 17. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and St. Paul Federation of Educators are holding a joint press conference on Feb. 18 regarding the strike authorization vote results.

A strike is not imminent. If negotiations with the districts continue to stall, a yes vote would give the unions authorization to call for a strike on behalf of its members. If the majority of union members vote for a strike authorization, there is a 10-day waiting period before a strike can be called. During that time, the union and district representatives ideally work through negotiations to avoid a strike.

The coming together of unions over the strike vote is fairly unprecedented, as is the collective work between the teacher and ESP chapters of MFT 59. ESP is a blanket term that includes special education assistants, behavior deans, interpreters, and parent liaisons.

“The ESP chapter has never been working so closely with the teacher chapter and it’s giving us a lot more power that we’ve never had before,” Shane Morin, an ESP at Justice Page Middle School said. “What teachers are asking for is going to make our lives a lot better.” Morin highlighted smaller class sizes and smaller caseloads for special education teachers as two contract asks that teachers are fighting for.

Negotiations for a new contract began in February 2021 and were open to the public until October 2021, when, at the request of the district, negotiations were moved to closed-door mediation. A wide range of issues are being negotiated, including pay increases for teachers and ESPs, protecting teachers of color from being laid off, changes to the COVID mitigation strategies.

In its last public presentation on contract negotiations, the MFT 59 bargaining team asked for a 20% pay increase for teachers in the first year of the new contract and a 5% raise in the second year of the contract. Citing the rising cost of health insurance, MFT 59 asked for an additional district contribution of $600 per year towards the family plan. According to MFT 59, the proposed raises would bring salaries back in line with where they were 20 years ago, adjusting for inflation. The district estimates that these salary provisions would cost approximately $120 million over the two year contract. The district has offered $20 million over the two years, leaving a $100 million gap between the two negotiating sides.

Neither MFT 59 nor the district have laid out the costs of the COVID mitigation provisions, smaller class sizes, and staffing levels the union is requesting. In the Dec. 7 bargaining update, MFT 59 said the class size changes could be paid for by reducing staff at the district central office, but no specific cost was shared. In addition, it is unclear if the proposed changes to class sizes could be made given the existing distribution of staff and students to school buildings, along with the physical space limitations of the existing buildings.

In anticipation of the vote, MPS administration sent an email to families on Feb. 14 titled “What to expect with a potential teacher strike.” [A copy of the email is at the end of this article]. For MPS families, a strike will mean that school buildings will be closed for the duration of the strike, and, once the strike ends, the school year would be extended to make up for the lost instructional time. An extension to the school year could also impact spring break, graduation dates, summer programming and capital projects planned at MPS buildings.

At last night’s Park Board meeting, Park Board Superintendent Bangoura noted that they are working with MPS on contingency plans to provide some limited services to MPS students in the event of a strike. This could include extending the hours of the Rec Plus childcare program for existing clients and providing meals for students who need them. The Park Board is assessing its capacity to determine if it could provide additional structured programming in its recreation centers, in the event of a strike, to provide MPS students with a safe space to go during the day.

Additional reporting by Melody Hoffmann

Email from Graff sent Feb. 14

Dear MPS Families and Students,

Today through Thursday, members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) – many of the teachers and school staff you see each day in school – will vote on whether or not their bargaining group wants to strike.

I want to take this moment to recognize the uncertainty that we may all be feeling as a result. I also want to assure you that our staff and MPS as a whole remain committed to our students while recognizing the needs of our educators. At the same time, we cannot deny the potential ramifications of a strike after nearly two years of disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The following information is intended to help all our community understand possible next steps.

Possible Timeline

Depending on the results of this week’s vote, union leaders will need to decide if they want to move forward with a strike. If they decide to strike, they will make a formal notification of their intent to strike, followed by a 10-day “cooling off period.” A strike can be averted at any point in this process, and additional mediation sessions would continue with negotiations scheduled throughout this period.

An overview of past MFT/MPS negotiation sessions for the 2021-2023 contract, which began in February 2021, is available on this webpage. After 10 sessions, in October 2021 MPS petitioned to move contract negotiations with MFT into mediation with the Bureau of Mediation Services.

In the Event of a Strike

MPS will provide staff and families with as much notice and time for preparation as possible. The MPS community can expect the following during a strike:

  • All MPS classes will be canceled for the duration of the strike.
  • All school time lost because of a strike will need to be made up in order to meet state and graduation requirements. This could mean that the school year extends into spring break or further into the summer.
  • Capital building projects and updatescurrently planned at various schools may be delayed.
  • Graduation dates may be impacted.
  • Summer programming may be impacted.
  • Student academic progress and access to testing for English Learners will be impacted.

MFT’s Bargaining Proposals

While the MFT has put forth many proposals (many of which you can read about on our negotiations webpage), the following are key considerations:

  1. The MFT has proposed a salary increase of 20% in this year, and a 5% increase nextyear – which totals $45.1 million for Year 1 and $65.5 million for Year 2 of this contract.

In addition to their salary proposal, the MFT proposed a significant number of additional monetary requests.  MFT proposals in their entirety represent a 54% increase over their current base salary totaling – more than $168 million (compounded) over the two years of this contract.  

While MFT’s proposals are not fiscally feasible, MPS is committed to fairly compensating our employees within our means with a salary package offer to the MFT of $20.2 million over two years.

  1. The MFT has further proposed millions of dollars in operational expenses related to COVID-19, expenditures that are not currently recommended nor required by public health experts. MPS has repeatedly been commended by the Minneapolis Health Department for its comprehensive approach to limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus and we remain committed to keeping our students and staff safe during the pandemic.

You can read brief overviews of each negotiation meeting from last year by scrolling down this webpage. Videos of each session are linked on the right-hand column of the page.

Because contract mediations are now confidential, in accordance with the Bureau of Mediation Services, the information in those mediation sessions cannot be made public.

Moving Forward

Throughout contract negotiations, MPS has provided timely, accurate and lawful information about negotiation proposals. We will continue to do so in the coming weeks. Your questions, concerns and ideas can be sent to:

Our focus going forward must continue to be on our students. 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. Thank you for your patience as we navigate this situation with a commitment to honoring both our students and our educators.