Originally Published in SCEA Newsletter winter 2008.
“If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants,” Isaac Newton.
Ever wonder why the two days of Education Minnesota Professional Conference are commonly referred to as MEA days? September 1, 2008 marked the tenth “birthday” of Education Minnesota, the groundbreaking merger of the NEA and AFT state organizations.
Minnesota Education Association and Minnesota Federation of Teachers, which had split Minnesota educators into two competing unions, joined forces to improve the institutions in which we work and our students learn. The name of “MEA Days” is just an old short-hand for the event for all Education Minnesota members.
As members of any activist organization, it is important to understand the tremendous contributions and struggles by individuals before us who have made so much of our working conditions and compensation possible and help us see farther.
In each of the SCEA newsletters this year, we will inform members about the contributions of union members who have given us our base to work with, including local SCEA history, as well as that of our national and state unions.
Today, SCEA is known as a strong union with a high level of member participation. However, this united front has not always been the case, and it is the efforts of previous leaders who helped create the active membership we appreciate currently.
In the early 1980s, union members belonged to either the Minnesota Education Association (MEA) local or the Minnesota Federation of Teachers (MFT) local. While a majority of the local St. Croix membership belonged to the local MEA, there was significant representation of local MFT members at both junior highs. In an effort gain more leadership roles and have a greater say in voting and negotiations, many MFT members moved over to MEA and gained leadership positions.
During the mid-to-late 1980s, union Presidents Marti Rossini, Jim Foley, and Pat Curren worked to unite MEA and MFT locals and fight for strong contracts. In the early-mid 1990s, Joe Samuelson took over the role of union president and worked hard to bring both groups together. Some members say he was the most effective when it came to encouraging both groups to collaborate on union issues.
In 1981, SCEA decided to interview and hire an outside professional negotiator to increase the effectiveness of the negotiations process. It was at this time Larry Intveld was hired to assist members in the negotiations process. At the time, he was working with North St. Paul Schools. He has been working with SCEA members in facilitating negotiations ever since.
Following Samuelson, George Hoeppner took over as union president at the same time MEA and MFT combined into the state organization of Education Minnesota. In the past 10 years since the merger, John Greenberg and Joan Beaver have served as union presidents.
Some of the union’s major accomplishments during these transitions include hiring an outside negotiator to maintain some of the best health insurance coverage in the metro area. Another strength of the union is reflected in the high numbers of Executive Board members. In many other districts like White Bear Lake, for example, there are only about 10 members on the Executive Board. The SCEA model of having a representative from each building allows for a greater number of opinions and views on the Board.
During the last 5-10 years, there have been some significant changes to the contract, mostly relating to health insurance and benefits. Stillwater Schools hung their hats on the fact that members did not pay into health insurance for a long time. However, with increasing premiums, that model was no longer sustainable. By asking members to pay in, it put less of a burden on the district and didn’t alienate teachers from what a majority of community members were experiencing in terms of health care benefits. One aspect of the contract negotiators have worked hard to maintain for current members is unlimited personal leave days. By showing that teachers used only about .35 personal days in one year, negotiators have been able to protect this benefit.
There have been some exciting additions within recent years and more to come. The addition of the Retirement Gala, SCEA Walk/Run, and formal mentoring program were all implemented under current President Joan Beaver.
It has been the collaborative efforts of many presidents and members that have shaped SCEA into the active union it is today.
*Former SCEA President George Hoeppner contributed many historical aspects.