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Margaret Luger-Nikolai, Education Minnesota
Margaret Luger-Nikolai, Education Minnesota

The POWER 30: Margaret Luger-Nikolai

Teachers have been working remotely and making countless accommodations to educate children during the pandemic, many becoming ill themselves. Younger children have not been able to be vaccinated, and some parents haven’t vaccinated their children. Getting back to “normal” was the goal.

But for about three weeks in March, Minneapolis Public Schools were shut down again by a strike, and St. Paul came close to one. The Minneapolis strike was not only teachers — it encompassed school and community service workers and educational assistants. With an exception two years ago in St. Paul, Minnesota teachers had not been on strike for 12 years. The union was seeking higher pay, smaller class sizes and mental health resources for students.

The strike exemplified the goals of the labor movement writ large, said Margaret Luger-Nikolai, attorney at Education Minnesota. “These jobs can’t support a household.” Some education workers and teachers “see that work is not getting better. Younger workers are looking for unions and diversity.”

Education Minnesota, an umbrella over hundreds of organizations of teachers and other education employees, advocates for funding for schools and for teachers’ rights to strike, among other issues.

Teachers were concerned about student mental health even before the COVID-19 pandemic and knew there were ways it could be addressed in schools. The isolation caused by the pandemic raised the level of concern and teachers wanted to be sure there was something in place to help, Luger-Nikolai said. “The ratios between school counselors and students is too high.” Social workers and counselors split their time among schools, she said.

Luger-Nikolai was not at the bargaining table, but she was supporting the picket line. She sees the difficulty the strike caused.  “A strike is hard. They’re not going to get paid this week,” she said. And she acknowledges the difficulties a strike poses to parents and students. “School is not just school, it’s child care.”