Sarah Lahm writes here that teachers in St. Paul, Minnesota, are on the verge of striking to secure better funding for the public schools and their students.

In the early morning of February 26, a chill hung in the air as a line of teachers and school support staffers clad in bright red union hats, jackets or some combination thereof stood on a busy street corner outside of Highland Park Middle School in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As cars sped past, some with horns blaring in support, the teachers and school workers—who are members of the St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE)—hoisted signs proclaiming their willingness to fight on behalf of students.

SPFE represents more than 3,500 teachers, education assistants and school and community support staff members. Minnesota state law requires districts to negotiate with their unionized employees every two years, and the current round of contract talks between SPFE and the St. Paul Public Schools, under the leadership of Superintendent Joe Gothard, has been going on since last May.

Now, SPFE President Nick Faber says the union and the students and families they serve can no longer wait for Gothard and his team to step up and negotiate in good faith. On February 20, a majority of SPFE members voted to authorize a strike against the St. Paul Public Schools.

If an agreement between the union and the school district is not reached by March 10, thousands of SPFE members will walk off the job for the first time since 1946.

The key contract items SPFE is pushing for include fully staffed mental health teams in all schools, a greater investment in special education staffing and programming, and an increase in the number of multilingual staff members.

This puts the union squarely in line with other social justice-oriented labor movements that have been revived in recent years, as seen in events such as the teacher strikes in Chicago and Los Angeles in 2019. Like SPFE, the Chicago and Los Angeles unions also advocated for more than the typical bread-and-butter issues of union contracts, such as salary increases and seniority rights, and additionally pushed for better living and learning conditions for students.