Teachers union goes on strike, speaks out against Jew-hatred

By Vivian Sahner
February 5, 2024

Some 1,100 teachers and 800 teaching aides went on strike in Newton, Massachusetts, Jan. 19 following an overwhelming vote for action by members of the Newton Teachers Association.

“The most important issue is better pay and schedules for the teaching aides,” Kelly Henderson, a union member, told the Militant by phone. “Not only do they get low pay, the school system schedules them for 19- to 22-hour workweeks so they can avoid paying health insurance and other benefits.”

The teachers need a cost-of-living wage increase as well, she said. “Because of the increase in health care insurance, we effectively have taken a pay cut and they want to raise the costs again. We also need better parental leaves.”

The unionists had been working without a contract since August last year.

Hours after the strike began, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Christopher K. Barry-Smith ordered the union to immediately return to work. The teachers  have continued their strike.

“We expected court action,” Henderson said. “Strikes by teachers are illegal in Massachusetts but this is the seventh one since 2019. Everyone was fined.”

The first day of the strike teachers marched around Newton North High School chanting, “We are the union! The mighty, mighty union!” Passing motorists honked in support.

Two thousand strikers and their supporters filled the steps of Newton’s City Hall later in the day.

“I feel hurt on behalf of these educators who have been through so much,” Alison Lobron, the mother of two Newton North High School students, told the Boston Globe. Lobron is the founder of Newton Parent/Educator Collaborative, a group of parents who back the teachers’ fight for a better contract. “What they want to be doing is teaching our kids and they don’t have the resources to do their jobs.”

On Jan. 21 members of the Myrtle Baptist Church in West Newton joined the picket lines.

Teachers unions across the state have sent messages of solidarity to the strikers, as has Teamsters Local 25 in Boston.

Teachers in Woburn carried out a five-day strike in January 2023. They won a 13.75% pay raise for the teachers, and 40% increase for the aides, who typically started at a salary of $22,000 a year. The union was fined $225,000, according to the Boston Globe.

Judge Barry-Smith imposed a $25,000 fine against the Newton teachers union, a figure that is set to double with each day schools remain closed, up to $200,000 if a deal isn’t reached by Jan. 25. Henderson told the Militant they were already organizing fundraising.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association has lobbied legislators to overturn the bar on public-sector workers striking. But Democratic Gov. Maura Healey, like her Republican predecessor, backs the ban.

The mayor of Newton, Ruthann Fuller, is “trying to drag out negotiations, to turn the public against us,” Henderson said. “She says there is no money even though she recently announced there was a $40 million budget surplus.

“We have gotten a lot of community support during the strike, and welcome more,” she told the Militant. Messages of support can be sent to the Newton Teachers Association at 46 Austin Street, Suite 302, Newtonville, MA 02460.

Union opposes call for cease-fire

The Newton Teachers Association has joined the debate in the labor movement over how to respond to Hamas’ murderous pogrom against Jews in Israel Oct. 7 and the Israeli government’s response. The union condemned a Dec. 9 call by the Massachusetts Teachers Association for the Israeli government to implement a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. The MTA says Israel’s war to dismantle Hamas is “genocidal war on the Palestinian people.”

“The NTA unequivocally dissociates itself from this statement,” wrote Mike Zilles, president of the Newton union, Dec. 12. It “fails completely to hold in mind the atrocities against Israelis on October 7, the complexity of the situation and the trauma, pain, and fallout the Israeli, American, and international Jewish communities are experiencing.

“The very use of the word ‘genocide’ to characterize the actions of a people who experienced the Holocaust is callous,” Zilles said. “The motion approved by the MTA Board will provoke further antisemitism.” He called on the Massachusetts Teachers Association to retract the statement.