Minneapolis ESPs refocus on activism in contract campaign

2019-06-12-MFT-ESP-Rally-Photo-by-Brad-Sigal-107.jpgAfter the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59’s education support professional chapter settled its last contract, leaders knew that something had to change.

“A lot of people felt like they lost something with that contract, even though we did get some wins,” said Ma-Riah Roberson-Moody, a special education assistant at Roosevelt High School. “That feedback from membership showed that we have to do something different as a union and as a chapter.”

For Roberson-Moody, that meant stepping up to serve on the chapter’s executive board and taking a very active role in organizing around its contract.

“We’re focusing on trying to get people to stay involved and do more than what they’ve done in the past,” she said. “In order for the union to change and for us to get what we want, everybody has to change.”

MFT ESP executive board members started by going to their membership with a survey. They knew more communication was going to need to be a keystone of their contract campaign.

“About 70 percent of our membership responded,” said Roberson-Moody. “We asked people what they felt about the last contract, what their biggest issues are in the worksites. We also asked personal questions to see where they are at, like is the district’s health care affordable for you and are they working more than one job.”

The results showed that a majority of the MFT ESP members are working two jobs, and a large number work three jobs. A large number of members also reported not being able to afford the district’s health insurance plan, especially family coverage.

The negotiations team used the survey responses as a catalyst for what to focus on in this round of bargaining.

“In this round of bargaining, we are stating who we are, what we actually need and what we deserve,” said Roberson-Moody. “Our proposals are bold, because people have had enough.”

After the survey, union leaders went back to the worksites with a petition asking for fair wages and fully funding for Minneapolis schools.

Seventy-five percent of members at 62 out of 70 worksites signed the petition. The petition was then delivered to building principals, the school board and state lawmakers.

“Our membership was really able to come together,” said Roberson-Moody. “The escalation is important. Testing the power and structure of your membership is important, and knowing that power you do have when you come together.”

The next step was a rally at MFT headquarters on June 12. Nearly 250 ESPs, teachers and members of the public attended.

MFT ESP leaders are working to keep up the momentum during the summer months. They are starting to plan events where members can receive updates and be able to network and have fun, too.

The bargaining team is meeting with the district over the summer, but as of press time, had not received the district’s final proposals.

“It’s going to be a fight,” said Roberson-Moody. “Everybody is really passionate about what they do and know they deserve more. People are starting to share that.”

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59’s ESP chapter held a rally June 12 asking for a living wage for all employees in their contract negotiations.