Massachusetts teachers win ‘illegal’ strike!

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Teachers on the picket line on their four-day strike last week in Haverhill, Massachusetts

TEACHERS in Haverhill, Massachusetts, have won their strike held last week, defying a state law banning teachers and other public sector workers from striking, and incurring significant fines.

Two teachers’ unions, one local and one state, have each been fined $50,000 for the strike in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Union leaders said the school committee had agreed earlier last week to pay increases, but student safety provisions were a sticking point.

The union also pointed to a union-busting lawyer representing the school committee as responsible for delays, while the fines for striking put pressure on teachers to settle for less.

After four days on strike, Haverhill teachers and the district reached a tentative deal and school reopened on Friday, October 27th.

‘With this contract we won a financial package that represents a substantial investment in our public schools, closing a damaging wage gap between Haverhill educators and educators in other districts,’ said Haverhill Education Association President Tim Briggs.

The Haverhill Education Association issued the following statement upon reaching a tentative agreement with the Haverhill School Committee:

‘The members of the Haverhill Education Association extend their sincere thanks to everyone who supported us as we reached an agreement with the School Committee that meets the needs of our students and our community.

‘We are especially proud of the students who so eloquently and passionately spoke up for us. They continually reminded the dedicated educators of Haverhill what this contract campaign was all about.

‘The encouragement we heard from parents and other community members kept us strong and affirmed that we were doing the right thing.

‘Their respect for us – and their willingness to entrust their children’s future with us – make us proud to teach in this city.

‘And the messages of solidarity that we received from educators’ unions across the state inspired us to keep working hard for the contract that we deserve.

‘Our victory can now serve as inspiration for them to settle the contracts they need for their students and their communities.’

The 8,000 students in the Haverhill Public School District missed four days of school last week.

‘We are extremely excited to get our teachers back in the classroom, get our students back where they belong in the classrooms and let them do what they do best,’ said Scott Wood of the Haverhill School Committee.

US Secretary of Labour Marty Walsh played a big role in the negotiations on Thursday 20th October. He was on the phone with school committee members and the union helping them negotiate the final deal.

Wood signed the new contract on the steps of City Hall with Briggs just before 11pm last Thursday.

Hours earlier, Haverhill teachers swarmed City Hall as negotiations continued.

‘We want it to happen,’ said teacher Lori Curry. ‘We want to be in school tomorrow. All of us have said we want to be in school tomorrow, and this is complete games they are playing with us.’

As negotiations appeared to stall, the teachers didn’t mince words for the school committee.

‘This lawyer cares more about going to court, and getting teachers fined, and the unions fined, instead of staying there all day like Malden did and get the deal done,’ Curry said. ‘Thirty years I’ve been in this city. I’ve had it today with this.’

The union was violating a court order by continuing to strike.

Essex County Superior Court Judge James Lang announced the Haverhill Education Association (HEA) and Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) would face $50,000 in penalties if the walkout continued after 4.30pm Wednesday, ‘I have to consider what it takes to get teachers back into the classroom, given the determination to continue striking despite the known illegality of such activities,’ Lang said.

Lang said the MTA was being fined with the HEA because members of the state teachers’ union continued to encourage and condone the Haverhill teachers’ union strike.

If the strike continued, it was an additional $10,000 per day.

‘They have the money, we have the money, that’s all set. It’s the student safety issues,’ Haverhill High School counsellor Sarah Gauvin told WBZ-TV.

School committee member Paul Magliocchetti said: ‘There’s no issue with student safety and teacher safety. It’s the approach to it is what we’re fighting about.

‘Under Massachusetts general law, it defines how we deal with those issues. They’re trying to put it in this contract,’ Magliocchetti added.

Briggs said the new agreement includes language that addresses student safety and developing a more diverse teaching force.

A statement from the Haverhill School Committee said: ‘The Haverhill School Committee is pleased that a deal has been reached to bring striking teachers back to the classroom.

‘The agreement includes increased pay for teachers, without placing an undue burden on taxpayers.

‘It also addresses union concerns about classroom safety, while maintaining management rights and protecting student rights to privacy.

‘Importantly, the union has agreed to reimburse the School Department for costs incurred during this strike.

‘In addition, the union has agreed to fund a scholarship programme for underprivileged students.

‘Now, we look forward to putting this strike behind us and returning to the work of serving the children of our city.’

Students will have to make up the missed days at the end of the year or they could be taken from school vacations.

Parents have been forced to turn to other sources, outside of schools for child care, including the YMCA.

Parent Vanessa Romero told WBZ: ‘To be honest, I’m trying to like find who could take care of them. The first day I missed the sign-up to put them in, so imagine if I didn’t have no one. I would have to miss work and I just started a new job, so it would have been horrible.’

‘Just give them what they want,’ said parent Stephanie Parkhurst. ‘They do a job I don’t want to do.’

Some parents were on the steps of City Hall last Thursday night too, urging the people in the negotiating room to get the job done and get the kids back in the classroom.

‘She loves her teachers,’ said parent Alicia Smolar. ‘She wants to see them treated fairly.’

This is part of a recent wave of activism from Massachusetts teachers refusing to take lousy deals.

Earlier last week, teachers in Malden, Massachusetts, held what turned out to be a one-day strike, getting a tentative deal after just one day of school was cancelled.

Deb Gesualdo, president of the Malden Education Association, said 97 per cent of the union’s more than 700 members voted to approve the contract, which includes raises for teachers and administrators and an entirely new pay scale for paraprofessionals that will ‘move them closer to a living wage.’

‘There will be no paraprofessional in Malden Public Schools who makes $22,000 a year anymore,’ Gesualdo said.

The contract also contains new language to determine the size of caseloads for school social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, and educators who provide special education services; plus a commitment from the School Committee to push back against evictions during the academic year, Gesualdo said.

Last spring, teachers in Brookline, Massachusetts, also went on strike briefly. Back in 2019, when teachers in Dedham went on strike, it was the first teachers’ strike in Massachusetts in 12 years.