Teachers in Woburn, Massachusetts, voted to strike on Friday as contract negotiations stalled out, making them the latest district in the state to take the drastic step, despite the fact that it is illegal for public employees to strike under Massachusetts law.
Barbara Locke, president of the Woburn Teachers' Association, said without going into specifics that some of the key issues surround learning conditions for the students and teacher working conditions.
“We do not take our decision to strike lightly and believe that we have exhausted all other options,” she said, adding that they were not celebrating Friday’s vote, but hope it will get them back to the negotiating table. The contact negotiations have been going on for more than a year.
The vote came with more than 90% of union membership and with a vote of 99% authorized, according to Locke.
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In a joint statement sent Friday evening, the Woburn School Committee and Mayor Scott Galvin pointed out that the strike, which is slated to start Monday, is illegal and called it “disruptive and unnecessary.”
“Representatives from both the Committee and WTA did reach a tentative agreement in October 2022. However, the WTA did not ratify that agreement. Despite this, the Committee remained committed to working towards reaching a resolution on the contract. Since that time, the Committee has met regularly with the WTA to try to reach an agreement,” the statement continued, adding they are hoping to meet with the union on Sunday.
The Woburn School Committee released a statement on Saturday:
“A ruling was issued by the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board (CERB) on the evening of Friday, Jan. 27 following a hearing, which concluded that the WTA, President Barbara Locke, its officers and the employees it represents are about to engage in a strike in violation of state law, and that the aforementioned parties are inducing, encouraging and condoning such action in violation of state law."
“The ruling further orders the WTA to immediately cease and desist from engaging in or threatening to engage in a strike, to cancel and not reschedule any vote to strike regarding this bargaining dispute, and to immediately resume negotiations in good faith with the School Committee. The WTA and President Locke are additionally ordered to notify all employees it represents of the contents of the order and their obligation to perform the duties of their employment through their usual means of communication with membership, including social media channels," they added
The school committee said the latest proposal included options for reduced class sizes, more professional development and a wage increase. However, Locke said they have not satisfied all the union demands and that the strike will continue until an agreement is reached.
Educators in 2022 several other districts, including Malden, Haverhill and Melrose, have resorted to strikes. While they ultimately came to an agreement, such actions can come at a cost – students missed school and heavy fines were levied against the Haverhill Education Association and Massachusetts Teachers Association.