In normal times, educators are full of excitement and expectancy in the late summer, looking forward to greeting a new class of students and starting a brand-new year. This year, those feelings of anticipation have turned into anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic and the challenge of how to teach under new models — especially hybrid. In many locals, there is a lack of trust that our buildings can keep us safe.
Despite the challenges, as unionized educators you have risen to the occasion to ensure that learning in the midst of the crisis can still be joyful and as safe as possible for the entire education community. You’ve spent countless hours learning new skills and preparing to teach effectively in the pandemic environment. You’ve also built stronger locals and a stronger MTA along the way.
MTA members and staff have pushed it to the limit all summer to get ready for this moment, bargaining memorandums of understanding, holding regular union meetings to seek constant feedback with unprecedented rank-and-file participation, engaging in a statewide campaign to push back against bad policies, and preparing for a vastly different kind of teaching and learning.
We have not won everything yet, but we made the issue of returning to school #OnlyWhenItsSafe the center of public attention this summer. Just think of what we have accomplished together during your so-called “vacation.”
- In our preK-12 locals, we won 10 days for planning at the beginning of the year.
- We successfully pushed many districts and most campuses to begin the year remotely.
- We forced employers to assess and upgrade their ventilation systems and resisted going back into buildings where the airflow was inadequate.
- We organized, bargained and agitated for better technology, personal protective equipment, safety protocols, and accommodations for staff — and against unreasonable expectations.
- We fought back against unwarranted and destructive threats of furloughs and layoffs by college and university executives — and we won some of these fights.
In our preK-12 locals — Andover and Sharon in particular — members pushed the #OnlyWhenItsSafe message hard — refusing to enter buildings that had not been certified as safe. Although we vehemently disagreed when the state determined that the locals’ actions constituted an “illegal strike,” the message was delivered and the school committees in both districts were forced to return to the bargaining table.
What now? We take a short pause to settle into the new year and then we continue with a statewide campaign. Together, we must plan collective action if we see COVID-19 numbers rise, if your district’s response to a growing threat is inadequate, if members and students become seriously ill. We are preparing legal and organizing guidance for our locals to use if there are outbreaks that would require a rapid change in school plans.
We have already seen cases spike in places such as Dedham, Lynnfield and Monson. We know of massive, risky student parties in Lincoln-Sudbury and Dover-Sherborn and cases where infected students are believed to have gone to school in Attleboro and Winchester. We saw a surge in cases among summer staff in Athol.
These are brush fires. If we’ve learned nothing else from the tragedy in the West, we know that brush fires must be put out quickly. If the virus starts to spread out of control, we must douse the flames by shutting down our schools and other indoor venues. It could mean reverting to all-remote teaching if that’s what it takes to keep our students, members, families and communities safe.
Fighting for Public Higher Education Jobs
In addition to having to adjust to major differences in teaching and learning and health concerns on their campuses, public higher education faculty and staff have had to fight against furloughs and layoffs.
Two of our unions have staved off the worst of the threatened staff cuts and won the formation of a committee to study cost-saving measures that don’t involve staff reductions. This agreement prevents — for now — the layoff of about 450 employees, winning an important reprieve for members of the Professional Staff Union and the University Staff Association. But we need more than a reprieve. We need a long-term commitment to better state funding of our public higher education system.
Check out the new ad from our MassachusettsAgrees.org campaign to defend public higher education.
MTA’s Legislative Priorities
A high legislative priority for the MTA this fall is securing level funding for our public higher education campuses through the end of June, as illustrated in this new ad. We will need support from preK-12 members to make this campaign a success. More details will follow in future emails.
A related priority is to win new, equitably raised revenues to support public education at all levels. This is not a pipe dream. A recent poll shows strong support among voters for progressive revenues.
Through the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, the MTA will be a major player in this fight. Our goal is to win new revenues in the Legislature in the coming months and pave the way for the Fair Share Amendment in 2022.