St. Paul teachers’ union gears up for potential strike

The Saint Paul Federation of Educators is circulating an online petition among its members that asks them to “commi[t] to vote yes to strike, if necessary,” according to a Feb. 2 union email.

SPFE and Saint Paul Public Schools are currently in contract negotiations, but the union has accused the district of “stalling any progress on settling our contracts, even in mediation” by “refusing to discuss…class size, student mental health supports, and living wages for EAs,” continued the union’s email.

Teachers’ union collective bargaining agreements in Minnesota are on a two-year cycle, with the last contract covering July 1, 2019-June 30, 2021. SPFE led a strike in March of 2020 during that contract’s negotiations that cost the district’s youngest learners four days of instruction. According to the union’s Feb. 2 email:

Since our 2020 strike we, St. Paul educators, have endured tough working conditions during a pandemic to keep school going.

In August of 2020, SPFE joined a “National Day of Resistance” over school reopenings, citing “demands” such as “no reopening until the scientific data supports it” and “safe conditions,” including cleaning, testing and other protocols.

In February of 2021, when elementary students in St. Paul were back in their classrooms for the first time in nearly 11 months, the teachers’ union “raised numerous concerns” about bringing students back into classrooms, according to the Pioneer Press“express[ing] no confidence in the district’s health and safety plan” that complied with state guidelines and included “extra precautions.”

The district has received over $321 million in total COVID relief aid, or around $8,900 per student. A portion of the funds must be used to address learning setbacks, but the rest can be used on “nearly any cost school officials deem ‘reasonable and necessary,'” reports Education Week. According to the district’s spending plans, funds have been used on prevention and mitigation strategies recommended by the CDC.

SPFE and the district’s next mediation session is Wednesday, Feb. 3.