MPS food service workers set to join strike

Photo by Cole Miska Kelly Gibbons announces that SEIU will join MFT on strike

Daily picket lines continue outside the Minneapolis School District’s (MPS) offices in the second week of the Minneapolis Teacher’s Federation (MFT) strike. The more than 4,500 educators on strike gained a new ally on Tuesday, as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 284 chapter, which provides the meals for MPS, announced their intent to also go on strike.

Kelly Gibbons, executive director of the local SEIU chapter, announced the food service strike following a sit-in at the district’s offices staged by MPS students in support of their striking teachers. “These workers have been in poverty for way too long,” Gibbons said. “And it’s been on the back of the workers.”

One concern related to SEIU members going on strike is the lack of a solid plan in place for meal services without MPS’ food services employees. Gibbons mentioned she has heard that meals will be shipped in and that SEIU is looking into ways to feed children while on the picket line.

“What about the kids? That has stopped us from [striking] for years,” Gibbons said. “Because that’s all anybody ever cared about is these children. But now [SEIU members] have to start thinking about their families too, and their children, they can’t afford to feed them either.”

SEIU has given the district a 10-day notice of its intent to strike as required by law. Gibbons has confirmed that MPS Superintendent Ed Graff has acknowledged the notice. If MPS and SEIU are unable to come to an agreement on negotiations, the strike could commence on Mar. 28, and SEIU members would join the MFT members at their daily pickets.

The district has come to a few points of agreement in its negotiations with MFT, but many of the educator’s demands remain unmet. MPS’ negotiation team has not made a counter-offer to the MFT negotiators in the past two days.

Ma-Riah Roberson-Moody, a special education assistant at Roosevelt High School, is a member of the negotiation team for the Education Support Professionals (ESP) chapter of MFT. Roberson-Moody was unable to give an estimate of how much longer negotiations would go on and noted that the MFT negotiation team would reject the district’s current offer as it currently stands.

Roberson-Moody said the district had accepted frameworks of a few of MFT’s negotiating demands, including reducing the number of classifications of ESPs from 19 to four and working with MFT on ESP working hours. But that MPS had not significantly moved on their offer on pay for ESPs, and had not yet agreed to classroom size caps.

Roberson-Moody said another point of contention was the district wanting agreements on ESP hours and classroom sizes to be under a memorandum of agreement (MoA). 

“[The MoA] is a temporary agreement that could be taken away when it expires,” Roberson-Moody said. “We want contract language; our members are already working a lot of these hours.”

Photo by Cole Miska Students one block north of North high preparing to march to Davis

Students show support

As picket lines continued Tuesday, a group of around 40 students met at North Community High School and marched together to the MPS offices in the Davis Center on West Broadway for a sit-in.  Leila Sundin, a senior at South High School, was one of the head organizers for the sit-in and mentioned that they wanted to do a student-led action to counter the district’s narratives about the strike.

“[Ed Graff] has been demonizing the teacher’s actions and saying what the teachers are doing isn’t actually for the students, even though what the teachers are doing is for the students and for themselves, it’s for our communities.” Sundin said. “It’s really important that we come out here and say ‘no, the students are behind this. This is for our students.’”

The students participating in the sit-in arrived to applause from the MFT picketers who were already outside the Davis Center. The sit-in occupied the lobby next to the staging room for the MFT negotiating team for about an hour. District staff in the building did not react to the sit-in, and a district spokesperson did not comment when asked about the sit-in via email.

Sundin was unsure if the contract would be settled soon but noted that even though it was harder for educators as the strike went on, they did not want them to settle without MFT having demands met.

“I want them to settle soon for our teachers because they deserve it,” Sundin said. “But I don’t want our teachers to settle for less than what they’re worth.”

MPS sent out a press release Tuesday evening saying the district is committed to settling the contracts with both SEIU and MFT. The district promised that food service to students will not cease in the event of a food service strike but did not specify a plan to ensure the continuation of service.

MPS affirmed it would meet with SEIU “24 hours a day, night and day as necessary,” to reach an agreement,