Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers have come to an agreement that will, among other things, protect members of "underrepresented populations" from possible layoffs at the expense of white teachers with more experience.
The two sides came to the agreement back in March to end a two-week strike. According to the Tennessee Star, the agreement contains specific language to protect non-white teachers in the event that the district needs to reduce or relocate teachers within the district.
In a section outlining which "Designated Programs/Staff" may receive an "Exemption from Layoff," the agreement states that certain teachers "may be exempted from district-wide layoff outside of seniority order to remedy the continuing effects of past discrimination." Such teachers include:
- Those working at one of the 15 "Racially Isolated Schools with the greatest concentrations of poverty";
- "Members of populations underrepresented among licensed teachers in the District"; and
- "Alumni of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Tribal Colleges and Universities and/or Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) programs."
“It can be a national model, and schools in other states are looking to emulate what we did,” said Edward Barlow, a member of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers executive board. “Even though it doesn’t do everything that we wanted it to do, it’s still a huge move forward for the retention of teachers of color.”
In order to secure these race-based preferences, though, other groups had to sacrifice some of their protections. The group most impacted by the move toward race-based protections is the group for which the union used to advocate most aggressively: Those with the most seniority.
“Let’s be clear — with a view to get to that place, somebody has to provide one thing up,” said Candra Bennett, interim senior human sources officer for the district. “The seniority-based system is the bedrock of union labor.”
White teachers with the least seniority will now be "excessed" before teachers from "underrepresented populations" with less experience.
The Star Tribune calls the pivot toward race-based protections, unique to MPS, "seniority-disrupting language," an indication that other unions across the country may soon follow suit. Others, however, have challenged the new policy on constitutional grounds.
"When it comes to termination…an employer can’t racially discriminate even against whites," argued Hans Bader, a constitutional lawyer. "The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1996 that an school district can’t consider race even as a tie-breaker, in deciding who to lay off, even to promote diversity, because that (a) unduly trammels the white teacher’s rights…and (b) putting that aside, the school district couldn’t consider race to promote diversity when black people weren’t seriously underrepresented in its workforce as a whole."