A Message to St. Paul Teachers On Strike Authorization Vote

St. Paul teachers will vote today whether to authorize a strike over unsettled contract negotiations. The St. Paul Federation of Teachers—the local teachers’ union—scheduled the strike vote after contract talks with the school district stalled.

Yesterday, the Star Tribune published a commentary by teacher and former union president Ian Keith who will be voting “no” today on authorizing the strike, as my colleague Tom Steward wrote about here.

In his piece, Mr. Keith calls out the union and asks those casting votes today to consider how a walkout would affect students, families, community members, and taxpayers.

It’s a bold and courageous move to stand up to the union. (Rebecca Friedrichs, a California school teacher, and Mark Janus, an Illinois child support specialist, are recent examples of brave government employees who have challenged the status quo.)

I want to briefly encourage the teachers voting today in St. Paul to feel empowered to do the same.

Teacher-to-teacher, I get it. It’s frustrating to feel like no one is listening to you and that striking is the only way to express this frustration. But the effects of striking go beyond us. Once the walkout begins, students’ learning is put on hold. If I tell my students that every day of their education is important to their future success and then deny them that learning, I am not best serving them.

Families’ lives are also put on hold. Which could create division between parents and teachers, a relationship that is so vital to student success. And striking could create division between teachers and administrators, placing students in the crossfire.

In addition, it is an affront to taxpayers who help fund teachers’ compensation packages. Not because they find teachers unworthy, but because taxpayers are on the hook to help deliver on teachers’ promised pension plans regardless of how well government and the employees contribute.

(Which, have not been enough to fully fund the St. Paul Teachers’ Retirement Fund nor reduce its $573 million unfunded liability debt. This means there is a risk teachers will not get the pension they have been promised and taxpayers will be tasked with bailing out the underfunded program.)

Teachers, the time to vote is upon you (voting is set to run from 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. today). I support you. But I also support students, communities, and taxpayers, and striking hurts these groups. Use your voice and choice to unite us all—not divide.