Hazard pay, remote work sought by district child care workers

Staff say they’ve been ‘railroaded’ by in-person assignment

Stacey Gurian-Sherman
Stacey Gurian-Sherman says child care workers are frustrated by the in-person requirement and lack of hazard pay for district employees watching the children of essential workers. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

With Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) resuming virtual classes this fall, the district is continuing to offer daytime child care to the children of dozens of categories of essential workers, as required by Gov. Tim Walz.

The employees tasked with caring for the children say they want better pay, more staffing help and the option to opt out of the assignment for any reason — without losing their jobs.

The district has assigned the in-person care job to its cadre of child care workers and child care assistants, who in normal times would staff its before- and after-school program, called Minneapolis Kids.

That’s unlike the spring, when, as the district transitioned to an asynchronous remote-learning model, school support staff could volunteer for the assignment. (This fall, those staff are assisting with the real-time virtual classes.)

No hazard pay is being given this fall and the district is requiring Minneapolis Kids employees to work in person unless they qualify under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act for remote work.

That’s also a reversal from the spring, when the district’s in-person workers received a $3 hourly wage premium (increased to $5 an hour on April 30) and child care workers could opt out of in-person assignments if they wanted to. The base wage range for child care assistants is $15-$18.24.

Additionally, the district has increased the maximum student-to-staff ratio in the school-day program to 14:1 from 9:1 in the spring, according to leaders of the district’s education-support-professionals union, which represents Minneapolis Kids workers. That’s the maximum allowed by the state.

Child care assistant Stacey Gurian-Sherman, a union board member, said Minneapolis Kids staff feel “railroaded” by the on-site work requirement and are overwhelmed by the larger student-to-staff ratio.

(A district spokesperson said there are over 360 students of “Tier I” essential workers in the school-age care program, but declined to comment further for this story.)

Gurian-Sherman said workers were frustrated that the district did not explain why it rescinded hazard pay, which she said made employees feel appreciated and reduced staff turnover.

“Everybody just feels at a loss,” said Gurian-Sherman, who is working remotely this fall as she recovers from neurosurgery. She added that some workers have also been irritated by the district’s prohibition of staff helping students with their schoolwork and that it has been difficult to accommodate students’ different school schedules.

“With staggered bell start and end times, the set recess and lunch are proving to be ill thought out, as some students are missing essential instruction to be able to take lunch or recess,” she wrote in an email.

Gurian-Sherman said she wants the district to put at least two staff in every room and to open the assignment up to other support staff, such as associate educators.

She also said that if the district doesn’t have the funds to pay for the wage premiums, MPS leaders should pay for it by donating a portion of their own salaries.

In public testimony to the School Board on Sept. 8, she and seven other union members said the district should reimplement hazard pay and the work-from-home option.

One worker said he was surprised when he was told he needed to work on-site this year and that he feels taken for granted. Another said it’s unfair to expect one adult to handle 14 kids, given the cleaning and sanitizing precautions that need to be taken.

“If money is the issue, in my opinion, there’s no better time to find a way to shuffle money around than during a global pandemic when everything is unprecedented and nothing is certain,” child care worker Willa Johnson told the School Board.