A few years ago, the St. Paul Federation of Educators was boasting about how it was “bargaining for the common good” by using contract negotiations to advocate for policies that benefitted not only teachers, but parents and community stakeholders.
As then-SPFE president (and current Minnesota Commissioner of Education) Mary Cathryn Ricker explained in a piece for Dissent, the aim of “bargaining for the common good” was to show that the union sought “to improve our teaching and our schools, and not simply file grievances and try to protect our wages and benefits.”
SPFE’s approach was lauded in union-friendly media outlets like The American Prospect and was soon imitated by other teachers unions across the country.
However, recent events suggest that SPFE has dropped the “bargaining for the common good” schtick in exchange for a new mantra: “Every man for himself.”
The union’s decision to leave halfway through the district’s two-year contract with HealthPartners means that St. Paul Public Schools will have to pay a $4 million early termination fee to the company.
Ironically, SPFE spent the better part of the past year decrying school funding cuts and protesting corporate tax breaks, which the union claimed had left St. Paul Public Schools chronically underfunded. SFPE was also the driving force behind a tax levy referendum last November that would raise an additional $20 million in annual revenue for schools.
“We have enough money in our state to fully fund public schools,” SPFE president Nick Faber told NEA Today at the time. “We just have to have the courage and the will to bring it back to our students.”
To their credit, St. Paul voters stepped up and approved the tax levy by a 2-to-1 margin. Yet now SPFE has the audacity to turn around and throw a $4 million chunk of that new revenue right out the window.
Even worse, SPFE’s decision to pull out of the HealthPartners contract a year early means that the 1500 district employees who remain covered under the plan (a group that includes some of the lowest-paid workers in St. Paul Public Schools) will see their premiums increase by 22 percent next year.
So much for worker solidarity.
SPFE’s willingness to squander taxpayer money and screw over their colleagues makes clear that all of their talk about the “common good” is little more than empty rhetoric. Don’t believe the hype.