Anoka-Hennepin teachers union may set strike vote

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Teachers in Minnesota's largest school district -- Anoka-Hennepin -- may vote soon whether to authorize a strike after contract negotiations stalled recently, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

Negotiators for the teachers union and the school district have met more than a dozen times over the past 10 months, but they haven't been able to reach agreement on a new contract for the union's 2,800 members. Union leaders say they will decide Monday whether to ask their membership for a strike authorization vote, according to KSTP.

"You never take a decision like this lightly," said Julie Blaha, Anoka-Hennepin teachers union president. "We believe that putting that question out there is one more way to build the kind of urgency that helps us come to a solution."

The main sticking points are pay and benefits, according to the Pioneer Press, although neither side is releasing details on their respective proposals.

Blaha said teachers deserve a pay increase after foregoing raises and making other concessions in recent years, the Pioneer Press reports. She said the union's proposal is in line with what other teachers are getting across the state.

Blaha said she believes the district can afford the union's proposal because it has healthy cash reserves and received new funding from the state.

"In tough economic times, we were willing to do our part," Blaha said, according to the Pioneer Press. "Now that funding has turned the corner and they are in a better situation, we need to get back on track."

Schools Superintendent Denny Carlson said the district -- with about 39,000 students -- can't afford the union's proposal, adding that it's not prudent to use cash reserves to fund pay raises and health insurance costs, according to the Pioneer Press.

The teacher's union also wants to have members of the school board involved in the talks, which is not normal practice for contract negotiations. Typically, the school board appoints a lead negotiator and that person is responsible for bargaining.

Blaha said that's one reason the talks fell apart last week -- school board members weren’t at the meeting to discuss major changes in the contract, such as a proposal to slow down younger members’ progress on the salary schedule, the Star Tribune reports.

To protest the lack of action on the contract, teachers started a “work-to-rule” action early this year, stopping grading papers or doing other work after hours, according to the Star Tribune. In January, an outside mediator was brought in.

Anoka-Hennepin teachers are not the first to threaten a strike this year. The St. Paul teachers union was days away from a strike authorization vote last month when it agreed on a new contract with the school district.

Anoka-Hennepin teachers last voted to strike in 2002, but their contract was settled before the walkout, KSTP reports.

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