ESP union approves contract

Agreement to go before School Board on Tuesday

Members of Minneapolis Public Schools’ educational support professionals union voted to approve a 2017-19 labor agreement last week.

Union members approved the proposed contract by a 16-percentage-point margin. The agreement now goes to the district for ratification at the next School Board meeting on Nov. 13.

ESPs occupy positions such as associate educator, child care assistant and special education assistant. There are approximately 1,135 employees filing the roughly 1,375 positions covered by the ESP agreement, according to the district.

ESPs typically need some professional experience plus an associate degree or the equivalent number of college credits, according to job description summaries in the old contract. Starting pay for ESPs ranges by position, from $13.19 an hour for child care assistants under the old contract to $17.15 for special education assistants and $19.05 for associate educators.

The proposed new contract includes retroactive salary step movement in 2017-18 for ESPs who worked at least 110 days and had satisfactory job performance the previous year. Those ESPs would receive retroactive payments from the district to reflect their increased wage for 2017-18.

The proposed contract also includes a 1 percent across-the-board increase to the salary schedule for 2018-19, instead of salary step movement for the school year. ESPs below a $15 hourly wage would be bumped to a $15 wage for 2018-19, instead of receiving the 1 percent increase. That would affect 135 employees, most of whom are child care assistants.

The ESPs’ old contract with the district expired on June 30, 2017. The ESP union sent the district a letter of intent to begin negotiations in February 2017, according to an agreement summary the union posted online. The district did not agree to sit down with the union until March 2018, according to the summary document.

ESP union leaders initially proposed a 3.5 percent blanket increase to the pay chart in both 2017-18 and 2018-19, in addition to step movement each year, according to the summary. The agreed-to proposal includes step movement in 2017-18 but none in 2018-19.

Union president Shaun Laden said the agreed-to proposal “doesn’t represent our members’ contribution to our district, but that’s where we’re at right now.” He said the district chose to allocate the same percentage increase to each union with which it is bargaining, instead of allocating more to unions whose members make lower wages.

“Instead of the board creating parameters for bargaining based on the greatest need, they punted and said, ‘everyone needs the same,'” Laden said, adding that special-education professionals making $22,000 annually are getting the same percentage of new money toward their contract as principals.

“The district really had room to maneuver in this round of negotiations, and they simply failed to do it,” he added.

In an emailed statement, the district said its budget challenges have created strain on the negotiations environment and have caused delays on reaching agreements on a number of contracts. MPS projected a $33 million budget gap for 2018-19 early last fall.