Teachers in two Massachusetts districts strike, despite offer of biggest pay raise in 20 years

Classes in two Massachusetts cities were canceled Monday due to a teachers’ strike, even though those teachers were offered what would be their biggest raise in 20 years.

Teachers in the Malden and Haverhill districts walked out of their classrooms demanding better pay and working conditions, leaving thousands of students at home. Teachers’ unions are placing the blame for the strike on district officials.

“Since they have walked away from the table while we were still ready to bargain and our membership voted overwhelmingly on Friday to authorize this strike, if there was no agreement in writing by Sunday evening, the Malden Education Association members are on strike,” Deb Gesualdo, president of the Malden Education Association, told WCVB-TV.

In a statement on its website, the Haverhill Education Association attributed the strike to a need for improved “racial justice, health and safety and other working conditions.”

“The members of the Haverhill Education Association have been working without a contract for more than 100 days. After several rounds of bargaining with the School Committee, we have reached not a single tentative agreement,” the statement reads. “Educators have put forward proposals on racial justice, health and safety and other working conditions that have a direct impact on the quality of education we can provide students attending Haverhill Public Schools.” 

The statement concludes with a plea for the community to demand action from the district and city officials. 

“The HEA is demanding a fair contract that supports the needs of students, treats educators fairly and is in the best interest of our community. Please helps [sic] us end this crisis by reaching out to School Committee, City Council, and especially THE MAYOR, and tell them to settle a fair contract with Haverhill educators NOW!!!”

That fact that it is illegal for public workers in Massachusetts to go on strike underscores how acute the situation has become, prompting some students to side with the teachers. 

“We have students with IEPs that are not getting the support that they [need] and that’s also against the law,” said Haverhill Public School student Melissa Swauncy-Coleman. “So, we’re kind of in the situation where the law is already being broken, and teachers don’t have the support that they need in classrooms and the city doesn’t really have a plan to address that shortcoming.” 

Meanwhile, Scott Wood of the Haverhill School Committee told Boston 25 the teachers are to blame for leaving the bargaining table, stating the district made a “very generous” offer. 

Reports say teachers in Haverhill make about $10,000 less than the state average. While the school district offered teachers raises totaling $20 million over three years, Wood said they are asking for more. 

Negotiations with both teachers’ unions resumed Monday morning. 

Those negotiations resulted in the Malden schools reopening Tuesday morning after the MEA and district leaders came to a tentative agreement Monday night on a three-year deal, ending a day-long strike that had shut down all campuses, according to a report by Fox News. 

Malden’s superintendent said students and families suffered the consequences of the teacher strike.  

Meanwhile, classes were once again canceled Tuesday in Haverhill, despite a judge’s order that the striking teachers go back to work immediately because the strikes violate state law, Boston 25 News reported.  

In issuing the order, Essex County Superior Court Judge James Lang declared that the city’s 8,000 students would “suffer immediate and irreparable harm” if the teachers did not return to the classroom. 

“We’ll be here as long as it takes,” the picketing teachers of Haverhill district can be heard saying in a tweet by Julianne Lima of Boston 25. “Strike day 2. Teachers in Haverhill tell me they will continue their strike in spite of district threats of fines and a temporary restraining order issued yesterday ordering them back to the classroom,” the tweet continues. 

The teachers may be fined if they do not follow the judge’s order and return to the classrooms, although it is unclear how much or when any fines may be issued.  

“It’s time our school committee and mayor do the right thing!” the Haverhill Education Association said on Facebook Monday night. “Come honestly to the table and give the teachers at HEA the contract they deserve. Our working conditions are the learning conditions of our students.”