Celebrate Labor History Month
May is designated as Labor History Month and with all of the attacks on public education and unions today, it is more important than ever to remember how unions began, what they have accomplished and why they are an important tradition to continue. Minnesota has often been at the forefront of the fight for workers’ rights, but many educators don’t see the connection between the work they do now and how the history of the labor movement has helped get them to where they are today.
Education Labor History in Minnesota
1998: Education Minnesota created
The Minnesota Education Association and Minnesota Federation of Teachers merge to form Education Minnesota, making Minnesota the first state to have a merged educators union. Today, Education Minnesota is the largest and one of the most influential unions in the state.
1984: Right to unionize
The U.S. Supreme Court confirms the right of public employees to unionize, the right to meet and confer and the right of the union to charge a fair-share fee. Knight vs. the Minnesota Community College Faculty Association, which had been in the courts for six years, is the nation’s pivotal case on collective bargaining rights.
1974: Organizing education support professionals
MFT begins organizing ESPs and school-related staff on the principle that all school workers deserve fair salaries and appropriate working conditions.
1971: PELRA enacted
The Legislature enacts the Public Employee Labor Relations Act, which grants collective bargaining rights to public employees in the state. PELRA provides for teachers in each district to choose an exclusive bargaining representative, the MFT or the MEA.
1946: First teachers strike
In October, St. Paul teachers engage in the first organized teachers strike in the nation, winning improved conditions for themselves and their students. In the strike vote, 994 teachers vote yes and six vote no. Teachers go out on the picket lines in late November, in subzero temperatures, making headlines around the world. The strike ends one month later. Minneapolis teachers take a strike vote about the same time as St. Paul, but are able to avert a strike when Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey mediates a suitable raise.
1917-19: AFT in Minnesota
Kindergarten teacher Florence Rood convenes the Grade Teachers Organization to consider joining the newly formed American Federation of Teachers. AFT charters St. Paul Local 28. St. Paul’s male teachers form Local 43 in 1919. Minneapolis teachers break from the Minnesota Education Association and become AFT Local 59.
1909: First retirement funds for teachers
Minneapolis School District establishes the Minneapolis Teachers’ Retirement Fund Association (MTRFA) for Minneapolis teachers and principals.
1861: MEA gets started
Led by the principal of the First State Normal School in Winona, nearly 100 educators come together in Rochester to form the Minnesota State Teachers Association. The state is three years old and these early educators want to ensure that its children can receive quality education. The organization name is changed to Minnesota Education Association in 1876.
1860: Training schools for teachers
Training schools for teachers are opened in Winona, Mankato and St. Cloud. For the first time, women in Minnesota are allowed to attend and train formally for a profession outside the home. Female teachers earn $13 a month ($8 less than their male counterparts) and are required to follow strict behavioral guidelines.
1847: First Minnesota teacher arrives
Harriet Bishop travels from her home in Vermont to St. Paul, in what would become the Minnesota Territory, for a job to educate frontier children. Her first school was a converted blacksmith shop on a site now occupied by the City Hall. In addition to school reform, Bishop becomes active in other social justice issues, including temperance and women’s suffrage.
Not only is it important for union members to understand the history of the labor movement; it is also important for educators to teach it. Numerous resources are available online to help bring labor education into the classroom.
National Education Association online history
The four-part NEA Today series, “Answering the Call: A History of the National Education Association,” honors the legacy and impact of public education and educators in America.
American Federation of Teachers online history
The website features a history of the union, plus links to the video history series, “A Proud Tradition.”
AFL-CIO online history
The national AFL-CIO’s website houses a large offering of labor history resources, including links to other labor education websites, key events, a labor history timeline and videos about the union’s history.
University of Minnesota Labor Education Service
The University of Minnesota’s Labor Education Service provides trainings and courses for adults, as well as “labor in the schools” offerings. The program also runs the publication Workday Minnesota, which provides news and resources on the labor movement. Find out more about that publication at www.workdayminnesota.org.
U.S. labor history curriculum
The Illinois Labor History Society has developed curriculum for educators on our nation’s labor history, including a link to a podcast called “Labor History in 2:00.”
California Federation of Teachers labor in the schools
California Federation of Teachers lobar in the schools
The California Federation of Teachers has developed a site full of curricula, resources and website links for educators to use in teaching labor history.
Look how far we have come
While the exact sources for these early teacher contracts and rules are unknown, they have been displayed in numerous museums and shared by multiple sources online. It’s a look back to the early days of one-room schoolhouses and life before teacher contracts as we know them.