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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin August 25, 2023; Opening Day Rally; Work to Rule Guidance

Dear Colleagues,

In emails they have sent out over the past few days, Superintendent Nolin, the Newton School Committee (Email: August 22), and Mayor Fuller (Email: August 18) are employing anti-union tactics we have not seen before in Newton.

That won’t stop us! But if we are to adapt to the new realities on the ground, we must be nimble and quick to pivot in our contract campaign.

The most time sensitive “new reality” is Superintendent Nolin’s plan for the Opening Day Convocation. We had anticipated that rather than one convocation event at South, there would be two, one each on the north and south sides of the city. And we had anticipated that, as always, attendance would be voluntary.

NPS staff are now “expected” to gather at Newton South High School at 8:30 a.m. on August 30 for a “Staff Convocation and Rally for Educator Excellence.”

What do we do now? First of all, because attendance is an expectation, we must attend. That said, you are NOT expected to attend the informal gathering before the convocation. Please don’t.

Instead, join your fellow union members outside Newton South High school at our NTA Rally for a Fair Contract!

  • Rally outside Newton South at 7:45 a.m., ahead of the convocation.

  • Wear your blue NTA shirts (or another royal blue shirt if can’t can’t find your t-shirt or don’t have one).

  • Make and bring signs in support of our contract (we will provide some as well).

  • Carpool if you can to make it quicker to get back to your home schools.

Please come to our rally voluntarily. Show your NTA solidarity! These are NOT “directives.”

(Please note that the NTA also asks that you not sign up for Dr. Nolin’s staff advisory group. When negotiations are complete, we will talk to Dr. Nolin about how an advisory group could be structured so that it does not create a separate entity representing educators. The NTA is the sole representative of the members of its five bargaining units.)

After our early morning rally, we will file into the Field House together, bringing our rally energy in with us.

We need to let Superintendent Nolin know that if she is really on the side of educators, then she should stop issuing directives to thwart our concerted union activity. She shouldn’t just celebrate us with words and inspirational speakers. We need her to advocate for us to reach a fair contract with the School Committee!

With respect to the silent meetings planned for the opening two days of school, here is what you need to know.

In addition to the directives Dr. Nolin issued directly to us in her August 22 email, she also issued a directive to all principals that they prepare two agendas for staff meetings. Principals will begin meetings with an agenda that requires staff participation. Those meetings could be as innocuous as ice breakers. Then, if staff remain silent, they will shift to an agenda that is presentational.

We have organized members to not participate, and we are sticking with that plan, with a couple minor modifications. (To see the full silent meetings guidelines, click here.)

  • If you are required to bring your computer to the meeting, do so.

  • If you are asked to participate individually, do not respond unless given a directive to do so. (Not likely.)

  • When the meeting shifts to a presentational mode, if you are asked to use your computer, use it and participate that way. If not, participate by taking notes on everything that is presented. Careful, thorough notes. Do not do other work. These meetings won’t be painless, but hopefully they will be short.

What may happen is that the School Committee, when informed that NTA members were silent at meetings, will file a strike petition with the Department of Labor Relations. Legal wrangling will ensue about whether being silent at meetings is a “work stoppage.”

We do not think being silent at meetings is a work stoppage (strike)—the NTA has done it before, after all, and no one then called it a strike. But should the Department of Labor Relations determine that it is, they will order NTA leadership to communicate to NTA members that we have encouraged them to engage in an illegal work stoppage, and they must cease and desist. If I send an email to you to that effect, it is because I have been ordered to do so, not because I believe it to be true. But the NTA will have to comply, or face potentially large fines.

It is a real possibility that the School Committee will go down this path. It is clear that both the superintendent and the school committee are doing all they can to block our work to rule efforts. The Newton School Committee has communicated to the Newton school community that they will respond to any “work stoppage or slowdown” with“appropriate action, as required by law.” Superintendent Nolin has issued a set of directives that, if defied, the School Committee could construe as “work stoppages or slowdowns” and respond by “taking appropriate action, as required by law.”

The strategy seems to be this. Superintendent Nolin issues a directive. The School Committee waits for the NTA to ask its members to defy the directive, then they submit a strike petition to the DLR to stop the action (and tie us up in legal wrangling).

Be aware that the NTA will be grieving some of Dr. Nolin’s directives. But that process takes time, so meanwhile, follow the guidance below.

Dr. Nolin’s directives, with our guidance on how to proceed in italics:

  • Provide “sneak peak [sic] days” if that is something your school does;

    • Make it a union visibility event.

  • Prepare classrooms “keep[ing] the same routines [you] have kept in the district for decades“;

    • Make sure your classroom is fully functional. If you’ve been in the district for decades, you might want to prepare your classroom the way you did decades ago. Hmmm.

  • “Attend Back-to-School nights (open house/curriculum nights) and … work to ease student transition difficulties, as they have done every year”;

    • No one ever said anything about not doing either of these things, but make the back to school events opportunities for union visibility.

  • “Follow through on .. paid [voluntary] activity for which you have already been contracted”;

    • If you don’t wish to follow through, ask for the contract for this paid voluntary activity. If there is none, you’re free. Think twice about volunteering for anything in the future.

The fact that district leaders seems so hellbent on thwarting these efforts shows how seriously they take them, and how powerful they are. All that said, we are reaching the limit of what can be accomplished by modified work to rule.

So over the next few weeks we will be organizing more public facing events. For now, please participate in the two we have planned:

First is our rally on opening day.

Next is a rally at the first meeting of the Newton School Committee at 7:00 p.m. on September 11. School Committee meetings are still being conducted in hybrid format, with school committee members and central administrators sequestered in room 210, and the public only allowed to attend virtually.

We will attend in person. What that will look depends on whether the School Committee and Mayor Fuller lock the doors. But we will be there to present our case (and make a lot of noise).

So mark your calendars:

On Wednesday morning, at 7:45 a.m., gather with us in front of Newton South High School. Wear blue; bring signs.

On Monday, September 11, gather with us in front of the Education Center, near the Walnut Street entrance. Wear blue. Make noise.

These are not directives.

Join us in solidarity,

Mike Zilles, President

Newton Teachers Association


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