Newton teachers win support in strike for wages, schedules

By Vivian Sahner
February 12, 2024

Teachers and aides on strike in Newton, Massachusetts, remain solid on the picket lines in the longest teachers strike in recent state history. The Newton Teachers Association members voted by 98% to strike Jan. 18, after more than a year of failed negotiations with the city and having worked without a contract since last August.

The 1,100 teachers and 800 aides are fighting for much needed wage increases, better work schedules and an end to the increase in health care costs. There are 11,700 students in 21 schools in Newton, a suburb of Boston. 

“The biggest sticking point is that the Newton school committee refuses to bargain with us,” Michael Zilles, president of the Newton Teachers Association, told the press. “They are playing a game of wait it out, wait it out,” he said. The union faces escalating fines, as teachers strikes are illegal in Massachusetts. As of Jan. 30, fines amounting to $525,000 have been imposed.

Union member Kelly Henderson told the Militant  by phone Jan. 30 that broad support for the teachers is starting to put pressure on the city administration.

On Jan. 26, dozens of students gathered on the steps of Newton City Hall to express their support for the teachers. Henderson said the students organized the rally themselves, forming a “Students for Teachers” group. Fifty students signed up to speak.

Hundreds of people — parents, students, and teachers from some 40 different teachers’ associations across Massachusetts — rallied at City Hall Jan. 27.

Fourteen religious leaders from area churches and synagogues posted an open letter of support on the union’s website, “calling for Mayor Fuller to release the funds necessary to adequately address the concerns raised by the Newton Teachers Association.” Many opened their doors as warming centers for strikers and have offered child care, along with local YMCAs and the Boys and Girls Clubs.

“There’s been a lot of understanding for the teachers,” said Karen Waigner, the parent of four elementary school students. “There are a lot of people who are angry about the strike and yet still love their teachers and want the best for them.”

“The longer this goes on,” Henderson told the Militant, “the more this is bigger than just Newton. If teachers in Newton can win, it will help other teachers across the country.”

Messages of support and donations can be sent to the union through their website or Newton Teachers Association, 46 Austin St., Suite 302, Newtonville, MA 02460.