Barbara Madeloni

Six thousand Seattle educators walked out on strike September 7, which would have been the first day of school. The top issue was the district’s proposal—disguised in social justice language—to end student-teacher ratios for many categories of special education.

Also key were struggles over class size, cuts to services, and wages, especially for substitutes and paraprofessionals, who often work most closely with students with disabilities.

Minneapolis Strike Wins Big Raise For Lowest-Paid Educators

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After three weeks on strike, members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers voted to accept a new contract that brought significant wins and made inroads on critical issues.

The wins: education support professionals (ESPs) will receive $4 more per hour over the two years of the contract and retroactively; they will also receive a one-time $6,000 payment split over two years and opportunities for more hours and days of work.

Labor is on fire in the Twin Cities. Educators in Minneapolis are wrapping up their second week on strike, and cafeteria workers are poised to join them.

St. Paul educators came close to walking out as well; the unions fed off one another as they built their contract campaigns. “St. Paul has the experience,” said St. Paul special ed teacher Jeff Garcia. “Minneapolis has the energy. They are really fired up.”

Three contracts, two unions, one voice. On February 18, three groups of educators in the Twin Cities all announced strike authorization votes.

Two are bargaining units in the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers: 3,000 teachers, who voted by 97 percent to authorize a strike, and 1,000 education support professionals (ESPs) such as teachers aides who voted by 98 percent. Each chapter had over 90 percent turnout.

Meanwhile a combined unit of 3,600 teachers and ESPs in the St. Paul Federation of Educators voted by 78 percent to strike.

Chicago Teachers Union members voted by 77 percent on January 4 to go fully remote until effective Covid mitigations to protect educators and students were approved by members and enacted, or until the current Covid surge subsided.

Within a week they had a tentative agreement on mitigation measures. Members ratified it January 12 by 56 percent and returned to in-person teaching.

Whatever Happened to 'Eight Hours for What You Will'?

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When Frank Carrico talks about why he and his co-workers at the Heaven Hill distillery went on strike, he talks about family. “I missed out on my kids’ activities” because of forced weekend shifts, he says. “I missed out on a lot, and I don’t want the young people coming behind me to have that happen to them.”

When we spoke, the distillery workers had just come off a six-week strike demanding to maintain a 40-hour week, Monday-Friday, with overtime pay beyond that.

In mid-October six fights broke out in one day at Lawrence High School in Massachusetts. Police were called and arrests made. For those inside the school, this was shocking, but not surprising.

“The unrest is the students’ way of screaming out, ‘We need help,’” said high school English teacher Kristin Colucci. “Their social and emotional needs are not being met.”

It was a long time coming, but when 400 members of the Scranton Federation of Teachers marched out of the school board meeting Tuesday night singing “Solidarity Forever,” they were strike-ready.

Whose Safety? Our Safety!

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The safety of the community as a whole requires vaccines and vaccine mandates. But conversations about mandates have stumbled over questions about the power of employers and the rights of workers.

When unions avoid taking a stand for vaccine requirements (or even support resistance to mandates) they fall into three traps.

Trap one says our priority is to represent the rights of individual workers. Trap two says we cannot abide conflict or strong disagreement among members. Trap three says only the boss can exercise the power to require safety on the job.

“This is not the agreement you deserve.”

So said Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, announcing that members had voted to accept a plan to return to school buildings.

Chicago teachers began returning to schools on February 11 after contentious negotiations over whether they would be forced to teach in person. While their district’s animosity was exceptional, many similar struggles for safety are being fought across the country.

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