Minneapolis teachers union changes leadership after 22 years

The Minneapolis teachers union will have a new president after 22 years of leadership from Louise Sundin.

Robert Panning-Miller, a social studies teacher at South High School, defeated Louise Sundin, a nationally recognized unions advocate, with 56 percent of votes in the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) Local 59 election on May 11. About 1,132 teachers of 3,000 voted.

Running alongside Panning-Miller was fellow South High School teacher Joe Musich, who lost the race to incumbent Barb Boerboon. Others running for executive board offices were unchallenged Sundin supporters who kept their seats.

Panning-Miller, who's been a union steward for several years, ran with the promise of change. He said the union has lost sight of teacher perspectives. &#8220This union is self-interested. It has little interest in the concerns of average teachers. It needs to speak for its members and not tell them what to think,” he said.

Sundin, who has a long history of service on various education boards, is known as a progressive labor leader. She strove for education reform, teacher professionalism, accountability and professional wages.

The teacher contract she helped negotiate is criticized for being too unwieldy. Her direction has led to stricter policies about obtaining tenure, teacher improvement and merit-based pay. In his campaign, Panning-Miller focused on teachers' rights, payment, communication, pension plan, contract and democracy. He wants teachers to be compensated for experience, make the contract more concise and create a more open communication process.

On his website, www.reformmft59.org, Panning-Miller said, &#8220This movement is motivated by a desire to bring our union back to its core mission, advocating for the rights and benefits of its members.”

But overcoming his underdog status wasn't easy. Southwest High School social studies teacher Greg Denysenko said the win demonstrates that teachers want a better deal with MPS, including resisting big class sizes and risky pay schemes. Furthermore, he said some election practices raised concerns about communication between the union and members. He said Panning-Miller will &#8220create a climate of communication that will seek more input from the rank-and-file teachers in Minneapolis.”