Teacher Union Officials Look to Corporations for Money


St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) is attempting to make corporate funding of schools a subject of bargaining, but the school board isn’t having it. At the same time SPFT is ignoring calls for a merit pay system.  Solvejg Wastvedt has the story on mprnews.org.

Meanwhile, Mike Antonucci reports on the NEA’s criticism of corporate greed while investing millions of forced-dues dollars into (you guessed it) corporations.

This sudden interest in corporate “greed” and school funding money comes as these same unions prepare for a positive decision in the Janus case, which will probably end up with sizeable membership losses for these unions.  And University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management professor John Budd seems to agree.

“Traditionally, U.S. unions have been very bread-and-butter focused,” Budd said. However, Budd said lately more unions have taken to bargaining like the St. Paul teachers, on issues beyond wages and benefits. Budd said the approach can be used to win gains and build momentum in a political and economic climate that’s become more hostile to unions.

The St. Paul teachers union says tax breaks long enjoyed by the city’s businesses, colleges, hospitals and other nonprofits are letting those institutions off the hook when it comes to paying their fair share for schools.

Union leaders say that money belongs in schools, and they’re pressing the St. Paul school board now to help ratchet up the pressure. They’ve made it part of the negotiations on a new teachers contract.

It’s a bold tactic that was on loud display last week as union members chanted “Students’ needs, not corporate greed!” outside the glass-walled St. Paul skyway offices of U.S. Bank, Securian and Wells Fargo. The teachers also held an outdoor rally in front of Ecolab’s downtown building.

While the union says some firms are starting to pay attention, critics warn it could alienate executives at companies and nonprofits who believe their institutions already do plenty — and pay plenty — for St. Paul schools.

Besides businesses, the St. Paul federation wants local colleges and other nonprofits that are exempt from property taxes to voluntarily pay into the district. The teachers haven’t said how big the contributions should be.

The union says it has a specific problem with a business incentive program called Tax Increment Financing, or TIF. When property in designated “TIF districts” increases in value, the additional tax revenue goes to pay for development of the site, which teachers argue siphons revenues from schools.

In contract negotiations that are now in mediation, the union asked the St. Paul school district to join its demands for funding.

District officials, though, have responded by pushing a different revenue source: a state program called “quality compensation” or Q-Comp that funds teacher training and merit pay. The union, though, has resisted Q-Comp for years. There’s also no money for new program participants right now. The state says 22 districts and charter schools are on a Q-Comp waiting list.