The Potluck

Minneapolis teachers strike for first time in 50 years

By: - March 8, 2022 3:41 pm

Minneapolis teachers picketed outside Justice Page Middle School during the first day of their strike March 8, 2022. Photo by Rilyn Eischens/Minnesota Reformer

Minneapolis Public Schools teachers and staff went on strike Tuesday for the first time in more than 50 years.

Classes were canceled as teachers and staff picketed outside schools across the city with signs reading “The kids are not alright,” and “On strike for safe, stable schools.” Following months of stalled negotiations, both the teacher chapter and educational support professionals chapter of the Minneapolis teachers union — which have separate contracts — are striking over pay, staffing levels and class sizes.

“We want to be very clear that what (district administrators) are currently doing isn’t working,” Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Greta Callahan said during a news conference Tuesday morning. “They are driving families out of this district. They are driving educators out of this district. Our kids deserve better.”

Negotiations have taken place behind closed doors since the district and union entered mediation in December, leaving the public with little information about current proposals.

Minneapolis Public Schools says it shares many of the union’s priorities but can’t afford to implement all their demands — including 20% teacher pay raises and hiring more mental health staff — since the district is facing a projected multi-million-dollar budget shortfall next year. 

The education support professionals chapter is also pushing to raise starting salaries from $24,000 to $35,000.

In a statement Monday night, the district called the news of the strike “disappointing.”

“We know our organizations’ mutual priorities are based on our deep commitment to the education of Minneapolis students,” the statement said. “MPS will remain at the mediation table non-stop in an effort to reduce the length and impact of this strike.”

State and national education labor leaders joined the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers outside Justice Page Middle School as the strike officially started at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, pledging their support for the duration of the strike.

They cited St. Paul as proof that a deal is possible, after the district and union there averted a strike by reaching a tentative agreement late Monday.

“This weekend, I watched a tale of two cities in the Twin Cities,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “We will stand with our members and parents and kids to have the safe and stable schools our kids deserve. Superintendent, get to the table and meet these needs.”

Educators came together for a rally outside the Minneapolis Public Schools central office in north Minneapolis Tuesday afternoon. Honks, revving engines and cheers from passing drivers on Broadway Avenue drowned out the teachers’ chants of, “When public schools are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

Despite the lively atmosphere, teachers said they were anxious about being away from their students. They said believing that their demands would improve schools made the disruption worth it, however.

“It’s really energizing,” said Jessica Mueller, a special education teacher at Field Elementary. “But I’m overwhelmed, honestly, because I don’t want to be here. I want to be with the kiddos, in the classroom.”

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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.