Home Minnesota Educator President’s message: Legislative session is over, now we must bargain boldly

Legislative session is over, now we must bargain boldly

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Education Minnesota President, Denise Specht

Educators did our part in November. Then Gov. Tim Walz and the Legislature appropriated billions for schools—but fell short on some important policies.

Now it’s up to us again.

We are now in a round of collective bargaining with the power and resources to complete the Legislature’s unfinished business and make the most consequential improvements to working conditions and learning environments in a generation.

The Legislature is providing schools and campuses with billions of dollars in new money.

At the E-12 level, the state will increase its spending by $5.5 billion over the next four years.

Those are resources we can use in bargaining to make our worksites safer and more professionally rewarding places to be during the school year. We can come together to negotiate for pay raises and more affordable health insurance. When we bargain boldly, we’ll win more time and money to spend with our families.

That doesn’t include quality of life changes coming from the Legislature outside of bargaining.

There’s dedicated money for mental health professionals who can relieve the pressure many educators are feeling to help students with issues they are not trained for.

Our schools will have an easier time hiring education support professionals now that, for the first time, unemployment insurance is available to hourly school workers. More ESPs create a learning environment that’s more effective for students and more manageable for every other educator in the building.

Our locals have new power at the negotiating table. Staffing ratios are a mandatory topic of negotiations and new groups of educators can join licensed staff bargaining units.

In higher education, our members in the Minnesota State College Faculty union will see a 12 percent increase in funding for Minnesota’s two- and four-year campuses. As in E-12, how well that money is spent will depend on how well we negotiate with the Minnesota State system.

Our workforce will become more racially diverse thanks to historic investments in recruiting and retaining teachers of color.

There may be educators who don’t see themselves in every item in our legislative agenda, but one of the oldest tenets of unionism is to work for others’ issues so they will work for yours.

Pensions: Incremental progress is still progress

The most disappointing result of the session was on pension reform. We sought sweeping improvements but achieved incremental progress: A reduction of the normal retirement age by one year to 65.

But just because the improvements were small does not mean they were unimportant. Many legislators are on the record acknowledging the problem; some have already pledged to do more. All of them have heard from teachers and their union.

Our union will keep pushing for the thorough pension reforms our members deserve—and now we have momentum.

By the time this edition of the Educator is published, the next phase of our pension campaign will have begun. We’re seeking fresh perspectives from members and applying the lessons learned in 2023 to make more progress in 2024.

There may never be a fix that meets the needs of every educator, but I believe we can find a solution that benefits the most Education Minnesota members possible. Stay connected with our union in the next few months to receive the latest information.

The 2023 session of the Legislature has delivered funding that will change the lives of educators and students, but only if we work in union through collective bargaining to make it happen.

Denise Specht
Twitter: @DeniseSpecht

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