The Potluck

Minneapolis Public Schools invites teachers to cross picket line as strike nears

By: - March 3, 2022 12:46 pm

Reformer file photo.

Minneapolis Public Schools told teachers they have a “right to work” in an email Wednesday afternoon, five days before a potential strike could begin.

The email from MPS human resources said the district wanted teachers to know their rights in case of a strike. It included instructions for crossing a picket line, prompting criticisms from educators on social media who described the message as anti-union. 

Definitely not gonna scab on a strike,” a district employee tweeted.

In mid-February, members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike by a vote of 2,899-92, with 96% of teachers participating.

The district email states: “Under the law, (Minneapolis Federation of Teachers) members are not obligated to strike and have a right to continue to work. All MFT employees who do not participate in the strike are welcome to report to work as normally scheduled,” the emails says, before listing four guidelines for crossing a picket line:

  • “Do not engage in adversarial conversation or actions;
  • Go inside the building immediately after crossing the picket line;
  • Notify your supervisor if you are having problems crossing the picket line;
  • If driving, come to a complete stop before proceeding through a picket line. Failure to do so violates state law.”

The email also notes that striking employees’ pay and benefits will be suspended, access to school buildings and property like computers will be cut off, and “absence from work indicates participation in strike.”

MPS closed the message by saying, “MPS recognizes and honors the right of its bargaining groups to choose to strike. At the same time, we appreciate your attention to these important operational matters during the strike period.”

Asked for comment, MPS spokeswoman Crystina Lugo-Beach said the school district shares many of the same priorities as the teachers union and “remains committed to reaching an agreement.”

The union is calling for 20% raises, which the union says would put pay closer to what it was two decades ago, accounting for inflation. Teachers are also asking for each building to have a social worker and counselor on site, and for the district to double the number of school psychologists.

In another email to teachers Wednesday, Superintendent Ed Graff said he shares the union’s priorities, but the district’s budget won’t allow for all the demands to be implemented. The pay raises would cost $120 million, according to district estimates, and MPS is facing a projected $21 million budget shortfall next year due to longstanding structural financial challenges and declining enrollment.

“Let me be clear — the district’s obligation to maintain long-term fiscal stability exists alongside our deep gratitude and regard for what our school staff have been through and accomplished, especially over the past two years of the pandemic,” Graff wrote.

March 8 is the earliest a strike could begin. The union and MPS said they are continuing negotiations in hopes of avoiding a strike altogether.

*This story has been updated with comment from MPS.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.