School in Dedham Canceled Friday as Teachers OK Strike

An alert on the schools' page said school will be closed Friday for students of all grades

Schools in Dedham, Massachusetts, will be canceled on Friday as the school board anticipated a strike, which the teachers union overwhelmingly authorized in a vote Thursday afternoon.

The dispute is over the teachers' new contract, which the Dedham School Committee said has been under negotiation for nearly two years. An alert on the schools' page said all grades should not report on Friday.

"It's not what we want to do," said Tim Dwyer, the union's president. "We really want to focus on what we do, which is teaching kid. The idea that we now have to stand out in front and close the schools is sad."

"It has been very frustrating," said Rachel Dudley, the union's bargaining chair. "To feel like our voices aren't being heard by the other side."

The two sides have been arguing over several issues, including salaries and health care. There is also disagreement over the sexual harassment policy, student cellphone use in class and unpaid hours for professional development.

The vote to OK the strike was 248-2, the Dedham Education Association said in a statement, which noted that it was willing to negotiate further on Thursday.

"If there is no movement, teachers, councillors and other staffers will not report to work tomorrow morning," the union's statement said.

District officials say they're disheartened by the strike vote and had hoped that the dispute would not affect classes or distract students from their education.

"We are eager to return to the negotiating table," said Dedham Superintendent Michael Welch. "To hear the union's counter-proposal to our most recent offer and work through the differences that have led us to this strike."

The Dedham School Commmitee was "saddened" that the union would consider a strike, it said in a statement.

"We take the concerns of our educators very seriously and have been working over the last 21 months to reach a collective bargaining agreement that is fair and sustainable," the committee said. "This action unfortunately comes just weeks ahead of a planned fact-finding session, where we had hoped to reach an agreement through the bargaining process set out by law."

The committee's statement also noted that public employees are prohibited from striking in the Bay State, so it filed a grievance with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations, with a hearing held Thursday morning.

The Department of Labor Relations ruled late Thursday that the union must call of the strike. But union officials say they're willing to take the fines and any other punishment.

NBC10 Boston has reached out to Gov. Charlie Baker's office for comment.

But the Dedham teachers union's decision to strike was backed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, noting that the negotiations have lasted nearly two years.

"Throughout that time, it has been clear that educators' concerns and needs — which reflect those of the students and the community — are being ignored," MTA President Merrie Najimy and Vice President Max Page said in a statement.

"With their inadequate proposals and their snail’s pace of bargaining, the superintendent and School Committee have sent a clear message: We do not value the educators who teach our children," they continued.

The teachers association said the last teacher strike in Massachusetts came in 2007 in Quincy.

Despite the schools being closed for students, all school employees were expected to come to work for what the school website called "a District In-Service day."

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