Anoka-Hennepin teachers ratify contract, await school board approval

Last week, Anoka-Hennepin teachers ratified their 2013-2015 contract with 84.6 percent of the nearly 3,000-member union voting to approve it.

With the majority of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota in support of the contract, it will go before the school board for final approval at its regular meeting April 28.

Bargaining was an arduous process this time around, both sides agree.

The union and the district began meeting in May 2013 and, unable to move forward, entered into mediation in January.

Teachers enacted work to rule for one month this winter, working only for the seven hours and 40 minutes required by contract.

The union called off work to rule only to set a strike authorization vote for April 17.

Two major sticking points for the two parties were health insurance and changes to the salary schedule that would affect less-experienced teachers.

A tentative agreement came March 31 when the union agreed that the district could cap its health insurance contribution if it also agreed to provide 100 percent single coverage both years for the less expensive of two district health insurance plans. The district agreed to eliminate a proposed added step at the lower end of the salary schedule.

All teachers will receive a boost of $1,000 – one-time money – in the first year of the contract.

On the salary schedule, more experienced teachers, the majority of AHEM’s membership, will receive a bump of 1.5 percent in the first year of the contract and an additional 2 percent in the second year.

Newer teachers will see their salaries increase 1.5 percent in the second year. New teachers will start on the second step.

Both the union and the district feel similarly as 10 months of long, difficult negotiations wrap up: “relieved.”

“I think relief is the biggest feeling that the teachers feel right now,” AHEM President Julie Blaha said. “Having unsettled contracts is a big distraction. Losing that distraction will help us all in the classroom.”

The school board looks forward to approving the budget next week, according to Tom Heidemann, school board chairperson. “We’re really relieved that we were able to reach an agreement, a settlement that was within our budgetary abilities without having to cut programs or teachers,” he said.

The contract will extend retroactively from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2015, if it is finalized next week.

In several weeks, the union’s negotiation team will start meeting to get ready for the next round of bargaining, now only a little more than a year away.

“We’re taking a moment to decompress and review what we learned from this round,” said Blaha, who will conclude her term as union president in June.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]