A Year Like No Other
Making language inclusive, advancing a bill of rights for Education Support Professionals and focusing on the common good were among the key topics at the MTA’s 176th Annual Meeting of Delegates.
More than 970 registered delegates conducted a wide array of business during the event, which was held virtually on Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1.
The delegates adopted a new business item to form a task force that will develop a democratic process and a work plan with the goal of changing the name of the Massachusetts Teachers Association in three years to honor the union’s commitment to full inclusion of all members.
The delegates also approved a new business item to endorse and distribute the PreK-12 ESP Bill of Rights, a document developed by the MTA ESP Standards Task Force that lays out ESP demands for a living wage, affordable health insurance, health and safety provisions, paid family and medical leave, job security, recognition, and affordable education to strengthen careers.
The delegates passed bylaw and standing rule proposals promoting dues equity and covering MTA election rules, along with several amendments to resolutions — the MTA’s statements of principle — in an effort to ensure that their language honors all people in terms of gender, gender identity and gender expression.
Seventeen positions on the Board of Directors and four seats on the Retired Members Committee were filled, and the delegates approved the union’s budget for the next fiscal year.
Due to the impossibility of holding an in-person meeting amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the delegates adopted special rules that imposed some limits on agenda items and debate but maximized the amount of business that could be conducted.
The new business item concerning the name change was submitted by Yahaira Rodriguez, an ESP in Worcester and a member of the Educational Association of Worcester. Rodriguez serves as the at-large ESP representative on the MTA Executive Committee and as co-chair of the MTA ESP Committee.
The MTA “consists of teachers, faculty, professional staff and Education Support Professionals,” Rodriguez wrote in her rationale for a name change. “Another strong quality is what we share in common as educators — a commitment to equity and inclusion in education that will enrich and transform the lives of students in public schools, colleges and universities across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“As role models and leaders in the education community, we must continue to demonstrate this commitment to equity and inclusion in how we operate as a labor organization, including using language and terms that reflect and express our values,” the rationale added.
Another new business item that was adopted called for the submission of a proposal to the 2021 NEA Representative Assembly to endorse the THRIVE agenda and engage affiliates and members in the fight to pass the THRIVE Act, which seeks “to build a new economy to address the inequality and racism laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the submitter’s rationale.
In addition, the delegates passed NBIs to establish a task force to study special education issues and approaches to addressing them, to re-establish the Progressive Dues Task Force, to examine the security of member contact information, and to endorse legislation supporting the right of public-sector employees to strike.
The delegates passed an operating budget of $49,727,962 for fiscal 2021-2022, as well as a Public Relations/Organizing Campaign budget of $1,785,800.
Leadership reports focused on the fight against structural racism, the fight for education equity, and the struggles of working people.
MTA President Merrie Najimy and Vice President Max Page pointed to both the traumas and victories of the past year. They also cited polling showing that among the public, educators are greatly valued and highly trusted. MTA Executive Director-Treasurer Lisa Gallatin paid tribute to International Workers’ Day and the role of union organizing in winning important victories.
An Issues Forum on ways to use the significant amount of funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act inspired discussion of the opportunity for reimagining how our society shapes its public education system, from prekindergarten through college.The delegates heard from six members about their priorities — which included securing better pay and benefits for ESPs and adjunct higher ed faculty members, promoting health and safety in school buildings, addressing structural racism, providing whole-child instruction for all students, and ensuring debt-free public college.
On Saturday morning, the MTA recognized individuals and organizations for standing out in their contributions to students, public education and the labor movement — especially during a turbulent year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The delegates recognized math teacher Jennifer Hedrington, the 2021 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and a member of the Malden Education Association, and Susan Soares, the 2021 MTA Education Support Professional of the Year. Soares is a special education teaching assistant and a member of the Arlington Education Association.
This year’s Friend of Education Awards were given to Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, co-authors of the book “A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School.”
The MTA Friend of Labor Award honored the Chicago Teachers Union, which has led the way for education unions around the country in centering racial and social justice in the fight for the common good. Former CTU President Karen Lewis, who died earlier this year, received special recognition.
The MTA President’s Award paid tribute to five medical and public health and safety professionals who have spent decades fighting for environmental, racial and social justice, along with dignity and fairness for workers.
They are Alan Geller, a senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Dr. Julia Koehler, an expert in infectious diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital; Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association; Dr. Regina LaRocque, a faculty member in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.
Najimy said she was grateful to the recipients for the knowledge that they brought to the MTA as members sought to navigate the “public health and safety world” during the pandemic.
“They made a commitment to the MTA even though they are not members,” Najimy said. “They understood that their commitment was to the common good.”