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Teachers continue strike amid fines and ongoing negotiations

Orlando Christian
NTA members and supporters rally in front of the Education Center on their fifth day of strike Tuesday, Jan. 23.

The Newton Teachers Association (NTA) continued to strike today, Tuesday, Jan. 23, despite accruing fines from the Middlesex Superior Court last night and for each day they remain on the picket line.   

This past weekend, the Newton School Committee and NTA engaged in a nine-hour mediation session to address contract disputes. Negotiations continued yesterday, Monday, Jan. 22, with slow progress, according to history teacher David Bedar, an NTA member. The union and the committee still disagree on several major issues such as paraprofessional salaries, parental leave, and cost of living adjustments, he added.

According to Christopher Brezski, a school committee member, Newton Public Schools (NPS) does not have enough money to pay for the contract the NTA wants.

“There is no universe where we can accept that contract and retain the staff necessary to satisfy our student’s needs,” said Brezski. “We are going to put forth the best offer we can,” he added.

Bedar disagrees. “What the NTA has been saying all along is that funds are available,” he said. It’s about a political will for the Mayor to actually use them,” he added.

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comment by The Newtonite

According to a motion approved by a Superior Court Judge, the NTA incurred a $25,000 fine at 8 p.m. last night, escalating to $50,000 on Wednesday, Jan. 24, and doubling each day afterward if the strike persists. If the strike continues beyond Thursday night, both the NTA and the committee must appear in court, added Bedar.

“Strikes by public sector unions are illegal in Massachusetts,” said Brezski. “It is actually our obligation and responsibility to file with the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board.”

According to Michael Zilles, NTA President, the NTA is looking for support from other labor unions to help cover the fines, and 33 local chapters of unions have already committed to providing financial support. 

The NTA and committee are still involved in back-and-forth negotiations, but approaches to bargaining have made progress over the past few days, according to history teacher John Fitzgerald, an NTA member. 

“Since the summer, the committee’s approach to bargaining was to give us an entire package and basically say, take the entire package, that’s it, we’re not negotiating on the discrete elements of the package. And that was a completely untenable way to negotiate,” said Fitzgerald.

Spanish teacher Ana Tellado-Schiff, an NTA member, added that the committee is now willing to negotiate pieces of the contract instead of the whole package. 

“This is good because before it was an all-or-nothing approach, so there was no movement from either side, but they are finally looking at it one piece at a time. And that gives us hope,” said Tellado-Schiff. 

According to Spanish teacher and NTA member Denise Cremin, improvements have been made to how negotiations are conducted. The school committee and the NTA are now bargaining in the same room. Since August, the committee and the NTA negotiated in separate rooms and communicated through a mediator.

Though the NTA has been strongly encouraging Fuller’s presence at negotiations, according to Bedar, she has never attended any sessions.

“She’s been notably absent,” said Bedar. “She has said the adults should be at the bargaining table, and I’m assuming she means from a city standpoint, that’s the people on their negotiations committee. But given everything that’s been going on, she should be there. We feel strongly that she should be there.” 

However, Brezski disagrees that Fuller needs to be present, “If the union’s contention is we need the mayor at the table so we can beat up on her, and get more out of her, I don’t know if that’s going to be a productive discussion,” he said.

The NTA held a rally outside of the Education Center this afternoon as negotiations were ongoing inside. 

During the rally, English teacher Micheal Schlegelmilch shouted out the support the NTA has gotten from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ed Markey, and Representative Ayanna Pressley, and called out Representative Jake Auchincloss for being silent about the strike. 

“You have a moral obligation to care for the city of Newton and you are failing miserably,” said Schlegelmilch, addressing Auchincloss.

Auchincloss’ office has not responded to multiple requests for comment by The Newtonite

Toward the end of the rally, negotiations temporarily paused when the fire alarm went off. Officials could be seen exiting the school committee building while firefighters moved in. 

NTA members continued to picket outside of schools this morning, attempting to communicate their commitment to the community and education system. 

History teacher Anna Meyer, an NTA member, said that the shared hope amongst NTA members at this point in the strike is for the committee to start negotiating “in good faith”. 

“I think it’s really important that the union keeps showing up together as one, and showing that we’re really committed to this fight, and we deserve a fair contract,” said Meyer. “We’re not going to go back until we get one,” she added.  

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Izzy Chapman
Izzy Chapman, News Editor
Kerri Huang
Kerri Huang, News Managing Editor
Aaron Spetter-Goldstein
Aaron Spetter-Goldstein, Features and opinions managing editor
Orlando Christian
Orlando Christian, Photo Staff
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