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Solidarity with Twin City educators

Transcript from March 3 roundtable

On March 8, International Women’s Day, 4,000 educators in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) went on strike for “Safe and Stable Schools.” Their union, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 (MFT), represents 3,000 Teachers in one bargaining unit and another 1,000 Education Support Professionals (ESP’s) in a separate bargaining unitFive days earlier, on March 3, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Local 59 sponsored an event to discuss the context of bargaining and the then-upcoming strike. In the interim, the threatened strike in St. Paul was tentatively settled. The event was endorsed by National Educators United, the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, and the Tempest Collective. We present the transcript below, slightly edited for readability. The video of the event can be watched here.

Speakers are:

Emcee: Marcia Howard, member of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59, a teacher at Roosevelt High School, and a community member of George Floyd Square.

  • Greta Callahan, President of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Chapter Local 59
  • Ma-Riah Roberson-Moody, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Educational Support Professionals First Vice-President
  • Leah VanDassor, President of the St. Paul Federation of Educators Local 28 and Jeff Garcia, member of SPFE Local 28
  • James Skretta, Starbucks Workers United in Buffalo, NY
  • Keith Brown, President of the Oakland Education Association
  • Cecily Myart-Cruz, President of the United Teachers of Los Angeles
  • Jen Johnson, Chief of Staff of the Chicago Teachers Union

Marcia Howard: Thanks for joining us. How y’all doing tonight? Y’all could be anywhere else in the world, but you’re here right now. You’re standing in solidarity with us because you know that we are on a monumental path right now. What we are accomplishing by making the decision that we made to vote for this historic strike.

I welcome you tonight. I don’t know if you know who I am. My name is Marcia Howard. I am an English teacher. I have been in Minneapolis public schools since 1998.

I’ve been a member of [Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT)], a dues paying member for 23 years. And I have been in a fight for Black lives, for brown lives, indigenous lives for the last two years, about 263 steps away at George Floyd square. And so when I think about the fight that we are fighting in the twin cities, we’re not just fighting on that corner.

We’re also fighting in our classrooms for safe and stable schools for our kids, for our communities, for our families, and for our colleagues. That fight is the same fight. We are fighting for a better nation. We know our jobs as educators and as support staff. When we stand, then we will be suffering the slings and arrows of a propaganda campaign that’s going to try to look us dead in the eye and say that we’re not there for kids.

When we stand, I need you to be buoyed by the understanding that we are filled with a righteous, righteous, righteous spirit, because we are doing this for safe and stable schools. I know when I look to my left and my right at my colleagues, that we are here for each other. We are here for these families.

We are here for these kids. Come on now, come on now. Don’t let nobody turn you around please. I need you to be prepared for what this fight will entail. You’re going to be hearing from 8 speakers tonight. They’re going to fill you with this spirit. They’re going to let you know the practicalities of what it means to go on strike.

If they don’t come to the table and meet us in a way that we agree upon for what’s best for us, those kids, these families, this school system and our professions, if they don’t, we will be on that picket line on Tuesday and you are going to have to stand your ground, hold the line. And don’t blink.

Now I’ve been hearing because I talked to my colleagues and people say, well, if it’s three days or six days or 10, don’t blink, don’t blink. You know why we’re doing what we’re doing. We need to stand our ground and hold on, hold out, and hold steady with the idea that our community is with us. Come on now, they’re with us.

Our kids are with us and we know why we are doing what we are doing. Y’all please understand that we have solidarity across the nation.

But you need to understand that when we stand, we stand together, we stand United. We stand strong, Minneapolis, St. Paul, come on, teacher chapters, ESPs, come on, they stand in with us and you know why we stand in, do not blink, do not blink. Come on.

Now, the first person that I want to introduce you to is my president of the MFT teachers’ chapter local 59, Greta Callahan. She is leading us so well in this fight. I am absolutely gratified to introduce you to Greta Callahan.

Greta Callahan: Thank you, Ms. Howard, bringing me to tears over here. Well, I’m just honored to see all of you here. Thank you so much for the solidarity. My name is Gretta Callahan. I’m a kindergarten teacher. I’m a mother of a child in our district of Minneapolis public schools.

And right now I’m the teacher chapter president of our union, the Minneapolis Federation of teachers, local 59. And like Marcia said, we are fighting for safe and stable schools right now. We have been for a long time and for decades we’ve watched the proliferation of charter schools, corporate ed reform. The defunding of our public schools happening.

We’ve watched those at the top continue to run our schools like a business with a corporate top-down model. And as the MFT, we haven’t withheld our work in 52 years. So since 1970, we have not had a strike and it shows in the power we’ve had or lack thereof as we deal with a lot of the issues that so many of us are dealing with around the country.

Right now, we’re sitting here fighting for a living wage for our education support professionals, our hourly workers who do some of the most important work in our schools. And right now are paid poverty wages at an average of $24,000 a year. We are fighting for a living wage for them. And that means that our kids have more stability then about who is in front of them and who they have relationships with.

We’re fighting for more mental health supports. And that means more licensed school counselors, social workers, school psychologists. Right now we have some of the worst ratios in the country when it comes to students, to counselors, students, to social workers. And again it shows right, our kids need more, deserve more, pandemic or not.

And right now we continue to not provide those supports for our kids. And even when our district says that they are, they’re actually outsourcing it. So strangers who our kids don’t know are coming in for some hours during the week. And that’s not providing adequate supports for our kids either.

We’re fighting for our class size caps and caseload caps, because right now there are pretty much no rules. And we have class sizes of 40 kids. It’s not about us trying to teach 40 kids. 40 kids have to learn in that class. At our online school, which has a wait list right now, all year long, has only been increasing in enrollment because our district refuses to offer online options at the site level this year.

We’re seeing class sizes go up to 60 students in a class. This is dangerous. There’s no data to support that any of that is okay for kids. We are in a righteous fight. When Marcia said the community is behind us, that’s because we’re fighting for our students. We’re fighting for our schools and improving our city.

So our members voted. Our ESP chapter was at 98 percent of members saying yes. And the teacher chapter, 97 percent of our members said yes. So there is no question on where we’re at or what we’re willing to do. We had hundreds of people sign up to join our union just to vote yes to lose pay, right? Think about that.

That is how important this fight is right now. People are saying, we will go walk off the job and not get paid, and we’re going to pay to join the union to vote yes to do that because it is so important right now. So we’re really feeling the solidarity from around the country.

And we’re so grateful and really feeling the solidarity even within our own school system and our cities. Our food service workers voted at 98.5 percent, said yes to strike in the Minneapolis public schools yesterday. In December, our bus drivers voted a hundred percent of their members said yes to strike. Things are not okay when four bargaining units in one school system voted yes to authorize a strike in one year.

And of course, our colleagues across the river in St. Paul also are dealing with the same stuff as Leah will talk about. A lot of the things we’re fighting for, St. Paul has already won. St. Paul has been on strike in the recent years as well. There is so much power in collective action, and we are ready to change the world with our collective action and our collective voices.

We are fighting for the same thing so many of you are. We’re up against mismanagement of taxpayer dollars of corporate ed reform of defunding of public education. And we’re no longer going to sit around and allow this to happen to our kids or our schools. We’re going to do something about it. So thank you for standing by our side.

We are so grateful that you’re here.

MH: Thank you so much. I just want to echo the fact that four bargaining units in one district decided that they were going to all strike at the same time.

It’s telling you that something is fundamentally wrong, but I will tell you this, the fact that we decided to do this, teachers did after 50 years, tells you there’s something fundamentally strong about our union and about this moment. The time is now. Don’t let them tell you different.

The time is now. Solidarity. Now I work with some of the best educators and the best educational support staff there is. And I’m going to introduce you to one Ma-Riah from the MFT. She is the first vice-president of the ESPs and I want Ma-Riah Roberson-Moody to come on deck.

I have so much respect for this person. Please listen to her.

Ma-Riah Roberson-Moody:

We work at the same school. So hi, how are you? My name is Ma-Riah Roberson-Moody. I am the first Vice-President for our ESP chapter here at MFT 59. I’m also one of the lead negotiators for our ESP bargaining team. And just to kind of echo some of what Greta was saying, our fight right now is for a livable wage for our ESPs.

That is the bottom line. We can’t continue with how things have been. Not only just because I am one of those people that makes $24,000 a year. I can’t afford to work here anymore and my colleagues are the same. And when you lose good staff, you have to really think about who that’s really impacting.

It’s impacting the schools. It’s impacting everybody else and your coworkers, but it’s mainly impacting our students. And that’s really what we’re in a fight for right now. We cannot continue to do the things that we have been doing because they don’t work. And that is very, very clear that they don’t work.

Our students right now they need support. And our districts need to be investing in the people that are providing those supports because when they’re not there, our students are the ones that lose out. So we want to make it very clear that our wages are a huge part of how we create stability within our schools. People leave when they are not respected for the work that they do.

So we want to make sure that a livable wage for ESPs is what we’re getting. We want to make sure that we’re increasing our hours. So we have time to collaborate and better prepare for students. And so we can prepare and work with our colleagues.

We are asking for $35,000 starting pay which should tell you we’re not asking for a million dollars. Nobody’s asking to be a millionaire that’s an ESP. We just want to be respected. Not only with verbally being respected, being a part of the team and the district, but also with our wages. We want to be respected for the work that we provide which is valuable work for our student’s education.

And we want to make sure that we’re getting equitable health insurance because right now our ESPs, as well as other hourly workers, are paying the same amount in their health insurance costs as administrators. And for somebody that has family insurance, that can mean that you’re getting a check that’s less than $500 after two weeks of working full time.

So we want to make sure that we’re getting those wages and equitable insurance for our folks. And I just want to say, to some of the points that have already been made here, what Gretta was speaking about, solidarity. We know that this is not working. And we’re not asking anymore.

We’re demanding that this changes because we work the closest with our students and we see the impact of when we keep the status quo. And if our districts are not going to listen, then we’re going to demand that that changes because at the end of the day, our students can not continue to be the ones that are losing out on good education.

So we’re going to continue to fight. We’re going to be on that picket line. At the end of the day, if Minneapolis doesn’t want to do what’s best for our students, if St. Paul doesn’t want to do what’s best for the students, they’re going to see people out on the picket lines because we’re not coming here to waste our time to just work here.

People really, really care about their job. And we want to stay here. We want to stay in the district. We want to stay working with our students and we want to be able to afford to do that. So you know, any type of solidarity and support, that would be great. Solidarity to all our food service workers, to everybody.

We hope to see you guys on the picket lines on March 8th if things don’t work out.

MH: Thank you so much, Ma-Riah. Again, I work with Ma-Riah. When I have to explain to my students what’s going on in Twin City schools, especially with our educational support personnel, and I talk about poverty wages and I talk about who’s mostly affected by poverty wages as an African-American teacher, as a teacher of color, an educator of color, my colleagues that most look like me are ESPs. There is no reason why my colleagues who clock in when I clock in, and leave when I leave, should be getting paid to the point where Target just started saying they’re about to pay people $24 an hour. And my principal was like, I think we’re going to start losing people.

When you work with students, it is a calling, a calling. And in order for you to be okay, pursuing your call, you need to have your challenge. You need to have your comradery, your coworkers, right? The kudos are great, but you also need the coin. You’re not going to give people kudos when you need to give them coin. A pat on the back ain’t paying rent. It’s not paying rent.

Now Saint Paul Federation of Educators are also in this fight. And to speak to that Leah VanDassor come on in.

Leah VanDassor: Thank you very much, Marcia. I guess I could pretty much say Minneapolis, everything you just said is true for us as well with maybe one change, except for the livable wage for our ESPs in our contract. We already have class size language in our contract. We already have mental health support language in our contract.

Our fight this time around is to defend what we already have in our contract. Our district came back after a strike two years ago and said, we’re taking it all back. And we’ve been working on some of this language for the last 10, 12 years. We didn’t get this all overnight. This wasn’t all brand new stuff.

It’s appalling. It’s ludicrous that they would try to do this to us right now with the way things are going in our society. All the things Ma-Riah just said about how our educators are treated, it is exactly the same in St. Paul. Right now, we’re facing some of the same struggles and issues in our classes and people leaving and not feeling we’re supported and respected in what they do for our students.

And, additionally, I don’t think this has been brought up. The state of Minnesota currently has almost a 10 billion, with a “B”, budget surplus right now. I don’t see that as a surplus when we have schools that are underfunded. When we have other social things going on in our city. We have people that are unhoused.

We have other things happening. This is all interconnected. What our districts don’t understand, when our students are safe and housed and well fed, and their parents have a job that pays a living wage, they come to school and they’re ready to learn.

We’re not just looking for some small thing to happen. This is larger than that. And when 70 percent of education funding comes from our state government, and they’re saying, we should just give everybody a check to get rid of this money because everybody deserves more, and they still leave the kids sitting out there without what they need to do school.

I’ll let Jeff talk about it. Jeff is a member of SPFE and he’s got a great way of putting it.

Jeff Garcia: Thank you so much Leah and everybody for being here. My name is Jeff Garcia. I’m a Special Education Teacher. I’m in my third year at St. Paul Public Schools. And before that I worked in community education in St. Paul. I am a native New Yorker, so let’s go Buffalo to you Starbucks folks as a former barista.

But I’m not here to talk about all that. I am a Special Ed teacher. I came into the district as a teacher from being an ESP, from being a TA (Teachers Assistant) making roughly, I would take home a couple hundred bucks each paycheck. Running around all day after high school kids. And I entered with high hopes.

I went through the districts, kind of grow your own teacher program, which was meant to increase teachers of color and encourage ESPs who had degrees to come not only into teaching, but into the highest need areas, elementary education and special ed. And I chose Special Ed. Let me tell you of the 24 people, mostly folks of color who went through my cohort, I would say probably about seven are no longer teaching in the district.

Mostly folks of color. The rest of us that are still here, most of us are strike captains. So that should tell you something about how much they gassed us up. About how much the district needed us. And when we saw the reality, our first year was the first strike year. All of us walked. That should tell you something.

So what does the strike mean for me as a Special Ed teacher? Last year during what I thought was going to be the hardest year of my teaching career and surprise, it’s this year. I had a caseload of students that at its peak was at 22 students. 22 students with IEP’s, with behavioral needs, with mental health support needs that I had to somehow meet on my own because we could not retain a sixth grade TA.

So here I am, 22 sixth graders, 22 families with different parents, different folks that I needed to contact. And different needs trying to meet all of them. If I had been in person, it was hard enough online. If I’d been in person with no TA, with no ESPs helping me out, I don’t know how I would’ve done it.

I barely did it last year. It was the closest I came to quitting because especially once we got back in the building, it was me keeping track of at that point 20 or 21 students who all had a ton of need, were scared of COVID, and just needed somebody to nurture them. And I did my best. The mental health team at my school saved me, saved my career, and saved my kids’ mental health. Our social workers, our nurse, our behavior specialists who could tap in and give people breaks.

So when the district has come to us and said that waiting special education caseloads for a setting one and two, basically students with anywhere from a moderate to low level of need, when saying that lightening our workload for someone like me would just make us increase kids’ minutes in Special Ed, because we want to be lazy, that is the biggest insult that I could think of.

I did not see a single person from the C suite waltz into my classroom and offer to help, offer to give me a break. When I was running around on my prep, trying to make sure that my kids were taking care of. What does that mean for me? It means that with a weighted caseload, with smaller class sizes, I can afford to give my kids the time they need for their goals.

I can actually move them along in their learning. I can take time to talk to them instead of essentially trying to just corral, right. Trying to just make it through the day. That doesn’t serve them. And my job is to serve them and I’m ready to strike to make sure that those things happen. To make sure we keep our mental health teams. To make sure we keep our class size limits. To make sure my colleagues in general education’s workload is sustainable.

And to make sure that the behavior interventionists and the EA’s in my building get enough money and can keep their jobs. To make sure I don’t lose any more cohort mates to the disrespect. And I want to leave you all with a quote from, I’m proudly Puerto Rican.

I want to leave y’all with a quote from Pedro Albizu Campos about my grounding of why I’m ready to strike and why I’m ready to get the schools that St. Paul kids deserve. “La ley del amor y la ley del sacrificio, no admiten la separación.” The law of love and the law of sacrifice do not admit separation. So if I have to sacrifice to get what my kids need, to get what St. Paul kids need, then what bigger act of love is that. Thanks. Y’all.

MH: Thank you. I love to hear you speak and I need people to hear this testimony because what Jeff is speaking to is this idea of we have to look at the books to see if there’s enough money in order to support you in the way that you need so that you can support these kids.

And we know there’s money because my governor was on the cover of the Star Tribune, fist bumping somebody over that surplus. It’s about $9 billion. Now I’ve been in open negotiations for the 24 demands at George Floyd square.

And I remember being in a room with [the] City Council and they were like, you know, with COVID, there’s no money. I said, just wait. And in the meantime, if you got to look in the cushions of your couch, you need to find the money to do what’s right. And sure enough, not a scant six months later, they talked about the first billion dollar surplus.

It was $1.6 billion and it has inched up and up and up. It is $9 billion. Y’all we sittin on $9 billion in surplus. Do we think that they are worth investing in? That’s all we ask. Seventy percent of our budget comes from those dollars. They better come on. And don’t feel bad about asking for it.

Jessica Garraway: Hi, my name is Jessica Garraway. I am with MFT. I am a Reserve Teacher. I’m a Sub. As a sub, you see the state of schools all over the city.  Every school I go to it is chaotic in that there are not enough subs in general to cover shifts. It’s been really chaotic and things are not safe and stable. That’s why we’re going on strike because as workers we deserve a safe and stable environment.

Our kids, obviously, without a doubt deserve that environment. That’s just a little small piece from a sub. There’s no other way around that we got a fight. I just wanted to say that. I’m posting right now in the chat, there’s a link talking about Minneapolis and St. Paul and what the fight is.

If you want to get that background, read those links. And also there are links to how you can directly as an individual and as a member of an organization,  how you can plug in and further this fight.

I’m excited for the strike because I know we’re going to win. The resolve is strong and we’re also going to do it with the support of the community here and across the country.

MH: The support of the community and across the country, we got people coast to coast. Including, but not limited to James Skretta from Starbucks Workers United in Buffalo, New York. Come on now, come through and show them what community looks like, what unity looks like, what solidarity looks like.

James Skretta: This is what it looks like. First of all, I am so angry. Hearing everything that y’all are sharing. This is just really incredible. I spent the day being kind of happy at work, enjoying myself, but now I’m just pissed off again. And it’s inspiring to be in a room with so many incredible people who lead lives that are foregrounded with love and compassion for trying to build a better world. For putting this energy that you put into caring for kids every day is a brave act.

Considering the fact that our governments refuse to give you the resources that you need to be able to do that in a way that really empowers you to lean into your love and compassion and care and what you can offer everybody. And this is why it’s so important that we are all together fighting to make a better world.

And we all do this work ourselves because nobody else is going to do it for us. I think that one of the things that’s been really special about Starbucks, you know I’m here in Buffalo. We formed the first unionized Starbucks at a corporate Starbucks store in the country last year in December.

And our movement has spread. We’ve filed election petitions at 115 stores in just that short amount of time. We don’t have any in the Twin Cities yet, but just you wait, you’ll be having a union Starbucks coming to the Twin Cities at some point. And the reason why I wanted to mention this is what’s really special about Starbucks workers and how they’re organizing.

It’s that the workers themselves are doing the work of making the organizing happen. We’ve got some really incredible support from Workers United. That’s helping us with legal issues and giving us advice. But the reason why Starbucks workers are unionizing the way they are is because the workers are the ones who are doing the organizing.

We are fighting for our workplaces because we deserve to have a say in how it is that our workplace is run. And it’s the exact same situation in any place where you have a boss or an administrator or some kind of corporate person trying to call the shots. If the workers don’t have a say in how that place is going to be run, you sure as hell know it’s not going to be run with the interests of those workers and the people that those workers are serving in mind.

And that’s exactly the situation that we’re seeing all across the country and education faces. Where y’all are at, schools are being run like businesses. Gretta talked about corporate ed reform. Leah and Marcia, you both mentioned that Minnesota has a $9 to $10 billion budget surplus. A state government shouldn’t be run like a ruthlessly efficient business.

It should be run with a vision for building a society in which every human can flourish. It should be run with a vision that puts the wellbeing of people first. That gives them the power to be able to take control of their lives. And that means funding schools, supporting the people who are working in those schools.

The kids are the future. Why don’t we treat those spaces like they ought to be. I think it’s awful to have to walk a picket line. Walking the picket line sucks, but it is, I would say, the single most important thing that I have done to help understand why we need organized labor. Why we need to be in the union movement. Where we can use our power collectively to get our corporate overlords to actually listen to us. To give us what it is that we need.

Nurses here in Buffalo were on strike for a full month back in September. They won every one of their demands. It took them a full month, but they won. They had each other’s backs and they fought through it. And now they have the staffing levels that they deserve and they were given back pay for the entire strike period.

The power of collective action cannot be underestimated. I just want to say how honored I am to be able to be here among so many incredible people and voice the solidarity of all of the Starbucks workers who are organizing to try and have real democracy in their workplaces.

Trying to have a real say in how it is that their workplaces run and be able to fight for getting a living wage. Fight for having a bit of ownership over where it is that you spend so much of your day, right? Marcia, this comment was so good “you shouldn’t be giving people kudos when you should be giving them coin.”

Everybody needs to walk away with that. It’s right. So I’m going to ramble if I keep on going too much, but the last thing I’ll say is you’ve got some incredible union leaders. These people in this room are working so hard to make everything happen, but to all the teachers, all of the rank-and-file in this space, you have to do the work yourselves.

We all have to be in this together. And the more that you rank-and-file teachers are empowered to have a say in how it is that your school is run and how it is that your union is run, the stronger in organization you’re going to be. Real democracy is what y’all are going to show. We’ll make change happen and build a better world.

So solidarity to all. And I hope you don’t have to go on strike, but if you do, you will have the support of us here at SB Workers United.

MH: We appreciate that. I think about all that y’all did in Buffalo in order to unionize that corporate Starbucks. If anybody’s not impressed with that, you should be because there are movements here where they’re trying to go union in huge corporations and they get busted up, infiltrated, and discouraged.

And we have a union and I’m going to say this right now. When we all hype about what we’re about to do, don’t let nobody turn you around because those propaganda techniques, that sort of fear, undermining, and the doubt they’re going to throw that in our face. I want y’all to look with conviction when they ask us, what about the children?

Say exactly, you know why we doing what we’re doing. Don’t let them try to tell you different. Stand strong. I want y’all to know that we have solidarity across the country, not just in New York, all the way on the other side. Matter of fact, I think we got somebody coming right now.

Is it Keith Brown from Oakland? How you doing?

Keith Brown: I’m just so happy to be here and sending love and solidarity from Oakland, California. The educators of Oakland, we got your back. The fight that you are taking on in the Twin Cities, it’s a righteous fight because you are centering our students, our students of color. You are fighting for all of the things that our students deserve.

As far as mental health supports, lower class size, and also a living wage for educators to make sure that we can keep our best educators, teachers, and ESP’s. Keep them in the community to be able to serve our students. And one thing hearing today from President Leah about the state of Minnesota with a $10 billion surplus, the money is there to fund public education for our students. Without a doubt the money is there.

You have Target. You have US Bank. There is no reason why the powers that be shouldn’t be able to make sure that our students have all of the resources that they deserve. So in Oakland, we are standing with you. I want to point out in my state California, conservatively, we’re looking at a $46 billion surplus, but I’m at a district that is trying to close schools in Black neighborhoods.

So this is a fight across the country for our students. This is a fight against billionaires to make sure that they invest in our schools and in California we have your back. We’re here to offer support and I’m just looking forward to seeingTwin Cities educators bring that purple rain.

I’m a Prince fan. And I know some of y’all know on Prince’s Controversy album he said leaders stand up organized. So that’s what we’re doing right now. As educators standing up and organized and we got your back. Thank you.

MH: Thank you so much “California love”. I love it. Y’all they got our back and we need to have each other’s back.

Look to your left. Look to your right. When you see a colleague say “I got your back” because I’m going to tell you right now, for people who’ve never been on a picket line or stood on a corner for 21 months, they might get a little nervous. Don’t blink. From California, we also got Los Angeles teacher Cecily Myart-Cruz. Thank you so much for being here. Hello!

Cecily Myart-Cruz: What’s up family? What’s good?

Let me say this. It’s always a pleasure to follow my brother from the Bay. We always keep it right. And we always say the Bay to LA or LA to the Bay. Listen family. This is the time! The time is now! The time is now! We got to stand up because privatizers, charterizers are going to try to hold us up.

They’re going to try to tell you don’t do it. What about the kids? We are doing this for the babies because, listen, y’all know that nobody is going to give us what we need. We got to take it! Our schools, our communities have been historically underfunded. They have been historically targeted for privatization and they have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic.

And what we just heard is that there is $9 billion. So I’m going to say this. There are 9 billion reasons why you got to get on that picket line and stand up for your kids. This is about the babies. Now Marcia said, and other people said, don’t let them turn you around. They are going to use some fear tactics. They are going to use some uncertainty. And some doubt.

We call it FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. And what I am telling you, Twin Cities folxs, y’all got to stand up because it is this time that we have to do what we gotta do. I don’t care if it’s snowing, listen, we were in the pouring rain, and our 35,000 members said nobody is going to turn us around because it is about respect.

It is about our livelihood. It is about our kids. And if it is about our kids and you know that it is.

Then you got to do what is right. You got to do what is right. And what is right is what folxs said. We deserve respect. We deserve smaller class sizes. We deserve a living wage. Our babies deserve to be in stable, safe schools. We deserve it. Why must we cower down? Why must we conform ourselves to say we don’t deserve it?

When we have folxs leaving the profession. This is the time to demand what we need. And so I’m going to leave you with Ella Baker because I’m drawing the ancestor today. She said, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” So Twin Cities, this is our time! Stand up! Stand up! Stand up! And demand for freedom to not rest. Peace and Solidarity.

MH: Come on now. Solidarity. Y’all come on. I hope you heard it. Did you hear it? Did you feel it? Come on now. This is not an ordinary day. This is not an ordinary time.

We’re standing up and we’re standing together. Not just in the Bay, not just in LA, not just in Buffalo, even in the Midwest. They said, “oh no, all these Twin City teachers, they not gonna be able to stand together. Yes, we will. We not gonna blink. It’s solidarity.

And you know who can talk about it? Also, Midwest Chicago. I thought Stacy was going to be here. Stacy Davis Gates, who is the CTU, Chicago Teacher’s Union Vice-President, but because of a family emergency, she couldn’t do it. But you know who we got? We got Jen Johnson.

You are so, so very welcome for standing in solidarity with the twin cities. I’m getting emotional just because of y’all. The world is watching and the nation is watching the Twin Cities. Please understand that. Get on your social media and let your people know what you’re doing.

Let your people know about the strike fund. Let them know because we gonna be doing mutual aid. Come on now. But Jen Johnson, you got it.

CTU Rally 2015. Photo credit Solidarity.

Jen Johnson: Thank you, Marcia. You know, it’s not cool A.) that I have to step in for my colleague, my sister, Stacy Davis-Gates tonight because it’s her son’s 13th birthday. So she needed to actually spend some time with her family because she’s always working.

And every single one of the people on this zoom tonight is always working. Our educators are always working, even when they’re home with their own kids. They’re getting text messages, emails, calls about their students’ needs, and they’re trying to meet them.

But second, not only do I have to replace Stacey tonight, but I have to follow my sister Cecily who is always the closer. Okay. And I just want to say, I stand with everything that Cecily said. I want to send solidarity from Chicago.

My mother actually grew up in Minnesota so I know a little bit about the Minnesota nice. And just like Marcia said, it’s not time to play nice when school districts and political leadership hold the bag and they hold the bag away from our students. Right. We didn’t get into this to be rich, but we did not enter this profession to be martyrs and our students deserve better than burned out educators who have to fight all the time for everything we need.

So I’m here to send a message of solidarity and love to all of you in Minneapolis and St. Paul. And to give a special shout out to the St. Paul Federation of Educators with whom we’ve had such an incredible mutual relationship for years. And I am so excited that SPFE and MFT are united in this fight.

How powerful is that? That is the sign of incredible organizing on the ground, incredible strategy and forethought that across our unions, we are standing together. I was lucky enough to come to St. Paul multiple times to learn from St. Paul Federation of Educators around restorative justice, around what makes strong, inclusive anti-racist climate teams in schools.

And so I know they have a track record. And so I know that the things that SPFE and MFT are fighting for all aligned to what we call bargaining for the common good. Yes, we deserve our rights. We deserve our pay as educators, but as Leah talked about earlier, everything about our conditions and our work is connected to the social conditions that our students go to school in, in that context.

Right. We have to be proud to say that we are not just fighting for pay, that we are fighting for conditions that will help alleviate housing constraints for our students and families. So let me just punctuate that by highlighting a few things that we won in CTU after our 11 day strike in 2019. We should not have to fight for these things, people, but we have to be willing to do so.

In our 2019 strike, we won for the first time full-time positions of individuals who would work in schools with the highest levels of homeless students in those schools. Why should we have to fight for that, right? But we should be willing to sacrifice, to stand on the picket line, to address the needs of our students so they can come to school communities with what they need.

So we won positions to help people with homelessness. We won staffing for our school community. I heard a lot of people talking about staffing earlier, but we had to go on strike to get a promise of a nurse in every school by the end of our contract.

Right. We shouldn’t have to do that, but with the strike, we now have enforceable language and have seen increases in staffing. We also had to go on strike for enforceable class size. We’ve never had enforceable class size in our contract. And for the first time, after an 11-day strike, we have enforceable class size in our contract and $35 million committed every year to help alleviate class size overages in our school communities, to add additional staff and additional positions and pay people.

And finally, I want to address paraprofessionals, which came up critically, critically important, right? Our school clerks, our teacher assistants, our family and community engagement folks.

We can’t run schools without paraprofessionals. And oftentimes as has already been said, the paraprofessionals are the Black and brown women who live in the school communities where they work. Because of our strike, we won 40 percent pay increases over the life of the contract for our paraprofessional members.

And they deserve that. They ought not to qualify for benefits from the government while working a full-time job in the public school system. That is unacceptable. And that was the case in our district. And so one of the key elements that we did say, pay is important and pay is important for our paraprofessionals.

And like I said, 40 percent pay increases over the life of the contract as a result of that strike. And we won educational lane advancement for them for the first time because many of these folks go to school, get degrees, and had no recognition for it. So I’m just here to say striking is the hardest thing.

I was up there in Minnesota, actually my last flight before the pandemic was coming back from St. Paul, right before their strike in 2020. And the energy and the power that you take on when you’re willing to go on strike, and when you fulfill that threat, if you need to, is life-changing. It affirms everything you already know.

You will have families and parents in your local school communities with you. And as you’ve already seen, you have supporters from all around the country. We will be with you every step of the way. We have organizers from Chicago who are there on the ground supporting right now, and we will keep sending support on the ground because we’re all in this together.

That’s the beauty of this National Educators United network is that we recognize that our power collectively, nationally is even greater. That we are all facing the same privatization challenges. All of the districts and municipalities try to Gaslight us on what resources are available for our schools.

And we’re not going to let that playbook be used against us. We’re going to share our strategies, share our learnings, share our demands and fight with one another. So Chicago Teacher’s Union stands with you. Chicago educators stand with you. You are fighting for everything you deserve and don’t apologize for it.

We will be with you today, tomorrow, and the next day. You do whatever you have to do because you are not asking for anything that is unreasonable. Solidarity!

Featured Image Credit: Photo by Chad Davis ; modified by Tempest.

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