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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin: February 11, 2024

Dear Colleagues,

It is becoming clearer to me that when we reached a tentative agreement that ended our historic 15 day strike on Friday, February 2nd, that day was both an end and a beginning. 

If you have experienced this past week anything like the way I have, the jubilation of winning the contract battle is starting to wear off, and what is setting in is a view of the work to come. We still have our work cut out for us. And that's a hard reality to face after the difficult two weeks we went through on strike.

But I'm also inspired by the fact that we begin from a place of great strength and solidarity, with the power to make our voices heard, and make them matter, in ways we never could have imagined possible before our strike.

One of the battles that we have before us is the ongoing effort to control and/or revise the narrative of the strike and what it means. At the forefront of this revisionist effort is the Boston Globe editorial page. While the Globe news coverage has been reasonably balanced, that is not true of the editorial page. During and after the strike, the Boston Globe published columns by Scott Lehigh (The teachers were stooges of the MTA.), Jeff Jacoby (Fire the teachers like Reagan fired the air traffic controllers.), Jim Stergios (Teachers going on an illegal strike are comparable to a president who led an insurrection to take over the government of the United States.), Don Siegel and Jerome Siegel (NTA and School Committee should submit their differences to binding arbitration.). In addition to these columns, the editorial board itself published three editorials condemning, in various forms, the strike. Only one column was published supporting, indirectly, our strike: Max Page and Deb McCarthy published a column that argued for making strikes legal, citing many of the reasonable proposals we were negotiating for in Newton, and showing the ways our current legal system protects a school committee's ability to circumvent and undermine negotiations.

But the last straw (so far) is the reprehensible column by Matt Hills that the Globe published on February 9th: "Like 'Seinfeld,' Newton teachers strike was about nothing." Hills claims that "union leadership appears to have gained little if anything from the illegal strike, despite local and state celebratory press communications." His revisionist narrative is that our strike was an empty gesture motivated by "a larger misguided political agenda." Like Scott Lehigh, but in more measured tones, Hills attempts to demonstrate that NTA members and their leaders are simple minded dupes of the MTA who won very little with respect to working conditions and wages. We will be asking the Globe to publish a full column reply.

But right now, it seems like a good time to set the record straight.

Here is what we won in our contract AFTER we went on strike:

  • a 12% COLA over four years for Units A, B, D, and E and 14% to 16% COLA for Unit C, increased from the 8% over three years for Units A, B, and E and 7.5% over three years for Units C and D the district was offering in December;

  • an additional 10 minutes added to the end of the day after student dismissal (weekly 50 minutes) for teacher aides, which allows them to remain with their students and keep them safe while they wait for transportation. And it assures that they will be compensated by a 2.5% salary increase for doing so--or rather, for doing what these members already do;

  • an increase of over 30% in Unit C starting salaries by the end of the contract. This will increase an elementary school aide's yearly salary from $26,122 to $34,048. While still not a living wage, it is also much more than the school committee was willing to pay had we not gone on strike;

  • moving the anniversary date of step increases for Units A, B, and E back to September 1 by the end of the contract;

  • a fair and modern parental leave policy that guarantees ANY member 40 working days of leave, and allows for additional paid days up to 60 days for members with accrued personal sick days;

  • language that holds the superintendent accountable for adding nearly 6 mental health providers in the elementary schools and NECP next year, with an aim towards having at least one full time social worker in NECP and every elementary and middle school by the end of the contract;

  • up to 15 days of paid FMLA leave using one's own accrued sick days to care for a family member, in addition to the 14 days that we can use to care for a family member of dear friend for everyday illnesses and injuries;

  • salaried positions for Assistant Athletic Directors and Athletic Trainers for the two high schools;

  • counting work experience when making initial placements of Career and Technical Education teaching assistants on the salary schedule, making it possible for the district to hire teaching assistants with industry experience;

  • a shift of the high school Tuesday afternoon meetings to Tuesday morning;

  • formation of a number of Joint Labor Management Committees:

  • to address the elementary school day, with the NTA's primary goal being to increase planning time to 220 minutes per week

  • to address high school class size, with the NTA's primary goal to cap all class sizes at reasonable limits

  • to review and revise Behavior Therapist and other Unit C absence protocols, with the NTA's primary goal to increase coverage;

  • to expand Category 1 hours to allow for professional development and planning/preparation time and participation in the larger learning community of each school, and to develop career pathways for Unit C members.

During strike negotiations we also protected our working conditions and benefits in significant ways, by preventing the school committee from:

  • including language in the contract that would have allowed the district to discriminate against the children of NTA members who have special needs when they enroll in or attend the NPS as non-residents;

  • Introducing language in the Time and Learning Agreement that would have:

  • given the district unilateral control over how to schedule Wednesday early release days;

  • required elementary teachers to do lunch duty;

  • added additional duties and allowed for supervision of personal planning time in the middle school;

  • increased duties and reduced professional autonomy over personal planning time in the high schools;

  • Shifting health insurance costs onto members through higher premium splits and increased deductibles;

  • Limiting access to the sick leave bank, with a specific intent to prevent educators early in their careers from taking paid parental leave;

  • Limiting sick days for early educators.

Any claim Matt Hills or anyone else makes about our strike not winning us significant gains regarding compensation, benefits, and working conditions is simply baseless, and is itself the product of a "larger misguided political agenda," an agenda which our school committee, Mayor Fuller, and most of our City Council fully embraced. 

What is that political agenda? To bargain hard, and then not bargain at all. To push the union as quickly as possible into impasse, and have a mediator assigned well before negotiations have progressed to the point where a mediator could possibly be of help. Refuse to negotiate in good faith. Push the mediator constantly to declare impasse, until the mediator is forced to declare impasse--because you have imposed it by refusing to bargain. Work constantly to back the union into a corner so that you can impose your last best offer--and be prepared to wait the union out as long as possible when they are forced to go on strike. 

In short, the political agenda is to break unions, and in this case, to break the NTA and make it a poster child for how to break a proud and strong union.

That is what our School Committee, our Mayor, our Superintendent, and our City Council tried to do. Their agenda was not to improve the learning conditions for the students of Newton. Given the huge surpluses the mayor has had in her budget for the last two years, and will have again this year, their agenda was not even to win a "sustainable" or inexpensive contract. 

No. The school committee and Mayor Fuller hired Liz Valerio because they wanted Newton to be the testing grounds where they could defeat the MTA. We went on strike for our members and our students, not because we were the pawns of anyone else's agenda. The School Committee, Mayor Fuller, and Superintendent Nolin held us out on strike because they wanted to break us, break our union, and what they perceived as the MTA's string of strikes. Their playbook was to defeat the "MTA Playbook." And if what they said were true, that we were mere pawns, or dupes, of the MTA, that might have happened. 

They wanted to declare Newton the poster child for defeating a strike, and instead, they encountered an indomitable force.

We--you--held the line.

They held us out for 15 days--15 days!--and what have they learned? 

We have learned much, but most of all, we have learned of our own power, and our own voice. Going forward, we will not let them take that from us, but rather build upon it.

In solidarity,

Mike Zilles, President

Newton Teachers Association



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