Minneapolis teachers union reaches tentative agreement with district after 14-day strike

The agreement includes higher wages, more mental health support and exemptions for teachers of color from seniority-based layoffs

By: - March 25, 2022 4:17 pm

Minneapolis teachers rallied outside the Minneapolis Public Schools central office during the first day of their strike on March 8, 2022. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer.

Minneapolis Public Schools and the union representing teachers and support staff reached a tentative agreement around 4 a.m. on Friday, clearing the way for students to return to class as soon as Monday.

Union leaders championed the agreement on Friday, saying it includes “significant” raises for education support professionals as well as additional mental health support for students, caps on class sizes and layoff protections for teachers of color.

“The collective action of our members has shown that strikes work,” said Shaun Laden, president of the education support professionals bargaining unit of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

The strike was the first by Minneapolis teachers since 1970 and kept more than 30,000 students out of school for 14 school days as the two sides struggled to resolve a $75 million gulf between their proposals even as the district stares down a $21.5 million budget shortfall next year.

“It has been very challenging, but at the end of the day, we were all able to come together and tentatively agree upon what I believe is a fair contract,” said Superintendent Ed Graff during a Friday morning news conference.

Teachers and support staff will vote on the tentative agreement over the weekend. The union and district must still negotiate a return to work agreement, but aim to resume classes on Monday.

Wage increases

A key demand of the union was to bring the starting salaries of education support professionals to $35,000 annually. They didn’t reach that, but starting wages will rise from $19.83 an hour to $23.91 by the second year of the contract. The union has temporary agreements for additional hours and days for education support professionals, who often work part time.

The district’s roughly 1,250 education support professionals will receive one-time $6,000 bonuses split over the two years of the contract, with additional $1,000 payments to support staff with at least 10 years of experience.

The district’s roughly 3,200 teachers will see modest salary increases, although the union boasts they are the largest in 20 years: 2% increases the first year and 3% the second year of the contract.

Teachers will also receive $4,000 one-time bonuses and bilingual candidates and teachers will receive additional $500 recruitment or retention bonuses.

Layoff protections for teachers of color 

The contracts for teachers also include rare protections from layoffs for teachers from “underrepresented populations” such as Black, Native American, Latino and LGBT teachers. In the event of layoffs, those teachers would be spared and the next least senior teachers would be let go.

Layoff protections for teachers of color was pushed by an outside group called Advancing Equity Coalition. Just 18% of Minneapolis teachers are people of color, compared with 62% of students. Many teachers of color at the district have less seniority, making them more vulnerable to layoffs.

Advocates of the protections say they’re necessary to address the city’s yawning achievement gap between white students and Black, Latino and Native students.

The teachers union — including some people of color in its ranks — say the issue is a sideshow that seeks to weaken the union and its bargaining power.

Members of the teachers union say far more teachers of color have quit over low pay and poor working conditions than have been laid off in recent years.

But union leaders did tout the language in the agreement as a win for the community.

“It’s going to be a nation-leading model,” Laden said.

The tentative agreement also grants seniority and placement protections to educational support professionals, who are mostly people of color in contrast to the city’s teaching staff.

“We’re talking about hundreds of educators of color who now have the same job protections and seniority rights and placement rights as their colleagues,” Laden said.

Mental health support 

A major demand of the teachers union was more mental health resources for students.

Under the tentative agreement, every building in the district will have at least one social worker. The number of full mental health support teams — which include a nurse, counselor, psychologist and social worker — will double at elementary schools.

The agreement will also increase the number of school psychologists to one for every 850 students. That is better than the existing ratio of one for every 1,000 students, but still fewer than the national recommendation of one psychologist for every 500 students.

The agreement includes $1,000 bonuses for school nurses and $1,000 recruitment bonuses for new nurses.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.