Organizing, bargaining and working to build stronger unions are the pathways to better public schools for students, their families and educators.
That was the clear message from an MTA Collective Bargaining Summit on February 7 that featured activists from educator unions in Chicago, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon.
“You can do anything, as long as you are all together doing it.”
- Portland Association of Teachers President Gwen Sullivan
Nearly 200 MTA members from 44 locals, plus Legislative and Political Action Team leaders, attended workshops and discussion groups over the course of the day.
“We are taking our first steps in reclaiming public education here in Massachusetts and nationally,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni.
Chicago Teachers Union member Jen Johnson discussed the makeover of her union through internal organizing and elections that brought in new leadership.
Vice President Nick Faber of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers detailed his union’s extensive community organizing efforts and strategies to bargain about “big issues” such as class size and reducing the amount of standardized testing.
President Gwen Sullivan of the Portland Association of Teachers told of her union’s success in threatening a strike over workload issues, which garnered broad support from community members and students. “You can do anything, as long as you are all together doing it,” Sullivan said.
MTA members and staff joined their fellow activists in workshops on strategies for bargaining and organizing as well as building community alliances.
Kourtney Senquiz of the Chicopee Education Association, right, tells how she became a union activist during an organizing workshop as Jen Johnson of the Chicago Teachers Union listens.
Chicopee Education Association member Kourtney Senquiz told others in her building site organizing workshop that when she wanted to challenge implementation of the new teacher evaluation system, she asked herself one question: “How can I be more active in my union?”
She spoke about the need to engage educators in personal, one-to-one conversations and build power one member at a time.
In his workshop on building alliances with parents and community members, Faber said that talking with people who might be unfamiliar with a union’s role and listening to their concerns about public schools create the necessary dynamic for supportive relationships outside of the union.
“What kind of schools do children deserve? What kind of teachers do children deserve? What kind of profession do teachers deserve? We did a lot of listening and engaging around these questions,” Faber said.
The summit grew out of the MTA’s member-led forums, in which educators articulate their vision for what public education should look like and what obstacles block that goal.
“Our members could see that, across the country, educators are facing the same struggles and assault,” Madeloni said. “To hear how other unions tackled these problems building by building, in coalition with the community, and by bringing big issues to the table, was an amazing education in what is possible. I am looking forward to following up with the participants and claiming similar victories here in Massachusetts.”
To see additional photos from the summit, visit the MTA’s Flickr page.