Eden Prairie preschool teachers settle first contract
Nearly three years after forming a union, the Eden Prairie Preschool Education Association has its first contract and its members are ready to start working on the next one.
“This was going on a three-year process,” said Aubrey Boubelik, a preschool teacher who served as a negotiator. “It has strengthened all of us together. It’s worth it.”
The 2018-20 contract includes 3 percent increases in wages for both years, an increase in personal days and the ability to bank up to five, increased sick leave and grievance, layoff/reduction and representation language.
“We have representation now. We have people we can go to with some things,” said Boubelik. “There was about a $10,000 gap between the average K-12 teacher and preschool teacher, and we aren’t getting paid over the summer. We didn’t get all of that fixed this contract, but we are closer.”
While the contract passed unanimously, the road to the EPPEA’s agreement was far from smooth.
In April 2020, the district discontinued the preschool program, which meant the teachers were laid off.
“We had a union with no members,” said Dominic Kirkpatrick, Eden Prairie high school teacher and president of the Eden Prairie Education Association, of which the EPPEA is a unit.
“We stopped negotiating as our program diminished,” said Angela Ericsson, another teacher and negotiator. “We stopped from last March to October. Then we had to start over as finances changed.”
In September, the program was back up and running, though not as many teachers were hired back.
The group of licensed preschool teachers became interested in unionizing after conversations with Early Childhood Family Education colleagues who were a part of the union.
“We realized we didn’t have a union rep, and we just had a handbook,” said Ericsson. “We wanted to be more inclusive with the district and the ECFE and K-12 teachers. We wanted to be able to discuss our wants and needs as teachers and to have a say in what we wanted and not just be told.”
After reaching out through the Eden Prairie Education Association, a group of the preschool teachers began meeting with Education Minnesota field staff and organizers and having meetings as a large group.
“There was a little bit of hesitancy since we have part-time positions and full-time positions, so they were wondering how this would affect us,” said Boubelik. “But it was a unanimous decision to unionize, for the most part.”
“Once everyone was educated on what it would mean, everyone was on board,” said Ericsson.
The preschool teachers are their own union with their own contract, but are a part of the EPEA union, which includes the district’s ECFE-12 teachers.
As a show of solidarity, the EPEA voted to pay for the EPPEA’s local dues for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, knowing they were still working on their first contract.
“These teachers were working side-by-side with the teachers of our membership as well,” said Kirkpatrick. “They are doing that exact same work or very, very similar to the kindergarten teacher that will be right next door to them as our district is moving the pre-K programs to the elementary schools. They will be using the same lunchrooms, accessing the same special ed teachers.”
“It was a show of solidarity to support these teachers and the importance of the work that they do to feed in to the K-12 community and the community as a whole,” she said.
Being treated like the professional, licensed teachers they are was a big reason why the group joined Education Minnesota.
“I feel like it’s strengthened our program as a whole,” said Ericsson. “New hires used to be given an eight-page document. Now we have a real contract.”
While the process to get their first contract was long, Ericsson and Boubelik are ready to get back to the table to negotiate their 2021-23 contract.
“The next one will be a lot smoother. We have a framework,” said Ericsson. “We want to do it right away. We have set language. We can ask our members about their wants and needs and jump into it right away. I’m most excited to have a starting point and have that support.”
In the next contract, the EPPEA hopes they will get to a salary schedule and the option to be paid on a 12-month schedule.
“We didn’t get on the teacher contract with an addendum like the ECFE teachers are this round, but we are working our way closer,” said Ericsson.
With the support of EPEA and Education Minnesota, Ericsson and Boubelik say their membership feels like it is in a better place with the district, and for that they are happy.
“Just being able to negotiate back and forth is huge,” said Boubelik. “The district knows who we are now.”
Photos courtesy of Dominic Kirkpatrick, Eden Prairie Education Association