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2002 teachers strike

Though it happened more than eight years ago, the teachers strike is something that many Red Wing educators, administrators and community members remember vividly.

Current Supt. Stan Slessor says though it is not talked about much now, the strike still impacts how educators and administrators make decisions.

"When we come together to negotiate, both parties respect each other's positions and work hard to come to mutual agreement," said Slessor, who came to Red Wing after the strike. "I believe that the experience of the strike causes people to work hard to address contract issues as they arise and to maintain open communication."

Some students transferred and emotions ran high when teachers went on strike in October 2002 after working without a contract since July 2001.

Slessor said those hard feelings have been laid to rest in the best interest of properly educating students.

"A school work stoppage can cause divisiveness in a community. The test is how quickly the community and school can get beyond the event and not let negative feelings color future actions and decisions," Slessor said. "We are working together to make gains in student performance that would be impossible if we harbored any negative feelings about what happened in the past."

Contract negotiations stalled over health insurance benefits and salaries. Teachers were seeking no changes to their health insurance package and a 6 percent pay increase for the 2001-02 and 2002-03 school years, which would increase total district costs about 14.2 percent over two years.

The district had proposed capping the district's health care contribution. In addition, district negotiators offered a salary freeze for the first year of the contract and a 3 to 4.5 percent salary increase for the 2002-03 school year. Their proposals would have cost the district 9.6 percent over two years.

"The district's proposals are simply unacceptable to our membership," said Sue Wolter, then president of Education Minnesota Red Wing.

The issue of health benefits was a contentious one with teachers. Wolter told the R-E teachers accepted salary increases of 1.95 percent and 1.25 percent over two years in 1999 to help the district escape statutory operating debt.

But shortly thereafter, Wolter said, administrators received larger salary increases and a beefed-up insurance package.

Kelly Smith, Red Wing superintendent during the strike, told news media at the time that the compensation package offered the teachers was competitive and that a settlement in excess of that would further strain the district's finances.

School was canceled for 17 days while teachers and district officials struggled to reach a settlement. Teachers and administrators spent hours negotiating as the bitter strike raged on.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement 16 days into the strike and teachers voted 195-19 the next day - Nov. 13 - to accept a proposal that gave teachers a gradual 6 percent pay hike over two years on the salary schedule. That increase served as a base for 2.5-percent raises in both 2003-04 and 2004-05.

But the staggered pay raises for 2002-03 only increased costs to the district by about 3.5 percent. That, combined with the 1-percent raise in 2001-02, was in line with the district's recent offers of a 4.5-percent raise.

Both sides also reached an agreement on the most contentious issue in negotiations: insurance coverage.

The settlement called for the district to continue to pay for full single coverage and 75 percent of family coverage for the period of Jan. 1 through June 30, 2003. During that time, teachers would move from their current health plan to a less expensive plan with higher deductibles, increased prescription co-pays and more out-of-pocket expenses.

The district agreed to continue to pay for full single coverage and 75 percent of family coverage for the 2003-04 school year. They also agreed to pay 85 percent for 1+1 coverage.

Students and students returned to school Nov. 15.