MSCS teachers unions demand new labor agreement

Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 10:24 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Overworked. Underpaid. Ready to negotiate.

Teachers with Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) told the school board on Tuesday that it’s past time to hammer out a new contract.

Educators in the largest school system in Tennessee said they’re at the breaking point.

The United Education Association (UEA) of Shelby County says it has the signatures required to force the district to take the next step and sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

15% of the system’s educators must sign a petition to start the bargaining process.

“Memphis-Shelby County Schools is the only major Tennessee school district that does not have an MOU for its teachers,” said Danette Stokes, president of the UEA of Shelby County. “UEA collected enough required signatures of teachers electronically and on paper to get the process started.”

MSCS teachers last struck a deal with the district in 2018.

At a special meeting called on Tuesday night, representatives lined up during the public comment section to voice their concerns.

“Our working conditions are unsustainable and becoming more so,” said one educator.

“Many of our class sizes are above the state average due to a teacher shortage,” said another.

A veteran teacher with 25 years of experience told MSCS leaders, “Right now, I’m marking the days off a calendar until I can retire because I am mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.”

A math teacher said that the district’s allotted 150 minutes a week of planning time for educators is a slap in the face.

“I spend nine hours a week doing paperwork,” she said. “I did the math on that, and that’s 28 days a year without compensation. What industry requires you to clock out but continue to work?”

Interim Superintendent Toni Williams has also announced the creation of a teacher advisory board, which she said will help her navigate the negotiations.

“This gives me an opportunity to listen to everyone,” Williams told the packed auditorium at MSCS headquarters, “and engage everyone collaboratively through this process. And I already told you, I’m leading by listening. I want to listen to all of our teachers.”

Williams said she wants to fast-track the negotiations and have the compensation schedule figured out by March.

She said she’s committed to listening, and the district’s teachers are ready to talk.

“I often tell my language learners that you are the voice in this world and you deserve to be heard,” said a UEA member. “Well, we are teachers in this district and we deserve to be heard. Thank you.”

Williams said she’s also committed to increasing teacher pay.

She acknowledged that new teachers are offered a much more competitive compensation package compared with the district’s tenured teachers, something she said needs to be re-examined.

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