Andover teachers and staff returned to work Wednesday, ending five days of negotiations and strikes, but a battle to legalize educators’ right to strike will continue in Massachusetts.
Andover became the latest town in the state to go on a strike over working conditions and salary proposals on Nov. 9, a move made after 27 bargaining sessions with the school committee since January, according to Andover Education Association officials.
After ten months of demands not being met, the school committee and teachers came to a tentative agreement on Tuesday evening that “boosts contractual increases” by 15.5% for teachers and 34% for instructional assistants. The agreement will also increase paid parental leave and planning time, according to the Andover School Committee.
“We hope that … going forward to do what’s right by our students and what’s right by this community, will be something that is done expediently, and not something that requires what we had to do,” said Julian DiGloria, first vice president of the AEA, in a live video the AEA posted to Facebook.
Strikes, such as the one in Andover, have taken place throughout many Massachusetts towns, despite it being illegal for public employees to strike in Massachusetts. Last month, the Massachusetts Teachers Association pushed for legislation to make striking legal for educators if results are not produced by at least six months of good faith bargaining, according to CBS News.
Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, D-Somerville, who co-sponsored the bill, said after a press conference the AEA held in front of the State House that the bill is “foundational” to the AEA’s cause.
“It’s about being able to come to an agreement without stall tactics, without people slowing [it down],” Uyterhoeven said. “We don’t see that when we withhold that last resort, which is the right to strike.”
Despite the illegality, many educators have taken to picket lines across the state, including those in Woburn, Brookline, Malden and Haverhill, where they argued their municipalities were misallocating resources and education was not prioritized.
“We actually had proof that the city had the money,” said Amy Cardoso, a teacher at Woburn Memorial High School who went on strike earlier this year. “We would show up on the common, on our city green when we were protesting with the exact figures … in the city budget sitting there for a rainy day. This is the rainy day.”
The Andover School Committee also put forward a $500 million proposal for a new high school without state aid, which educators believe underscores the financial health of the town, said AEA Vice President Lauren McCarron in a press conference.
McCarron said the town had the funding to meet the demands of the teachers.
“We live in a very well-off town here,” McCarron said. “I know what I pay and I know what my taxes are, so I know they have the money here.”
During the five days, the AEA held rallies across town attended by educators, parents and students, where they made their intentions for striking clear. It was not to be out of the classroom, McCarron said at the press conference, but to be provided with the resources to do their job right.
A sticking point for the AEA was protecting Andover instructional assistants, who act as a “frontline” in the classroom, McCarron said. Susan Greco, who has been an IA in Andover for seven years, said IAs start at about $25,000.
“I have pretty much constant financial stress,” said Susan Greco, an IA in Andover for seven years. “For a time, I had to do food stamps, I’m always applying for financial aid … it’s just been a constant worry.”
Under the new contract, IAs will now have a starting salary of $40,000, with the lowest-paid IAs seeing an increase of approximately 59.5%, according to a post on AEA’s Facebook.
On Monday, AEA was fined $50,000 for violating a court order mandating they end the strike, according to CBS News. The fine was scheduled to increase by $10,000 each additional day.
“Strikes are not the problem. The conditions in our schools that lead to educators feeling like they need to take this step is the problem,” said Massachusetts American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations President Chrissy Lynch.
Uyterhoeven said the right-to-strike bill for educators, and certain other public employees, is currently being reviewed by the labor workforce committee.
“Let’s get that done,” MTA President Max Page said in a press conference. “So that actually we can have better bargaining, produce better contracts and actually fewer strikes.”