As Cambridge Educators Remain Without Contract, Proposed Mass. Bill Would Grant Teachers Right to Strike
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Locked in a contract battle with Cambridge Public Schools, the city’s teacher’s union lacks a weapon in the arsenal of nearly every other labor union: the right to strike. A bill co-sponsored by one of Cambridge’s state legislators could soon change that.
H.1845 — presented by Massachusetts State Reps. Mike L. Connolly and Erika Uyterhoeven — would amend state law to guarantee the right to strike for certain public employees, including teachers. Currently, no public employees in Massachusetts have the right to strike.
Accompanied by S.1217, a corresponding bill in the Massachusetts Senate, the proposal would allow teachers and other public employees across the state to withhold their services as a bargaining tactic after six months of negotiation.
Connolly — who represents parts of Cambridge and Somerville — presented the bill in the House because he believes “having a right to organize — and by extension, a right to strike — is really a fundamental workplace right.”
“I think it’s unfortunate that we have this prohibition that surely makes it illegal for public sector employees to exercise that right to strike, and so our legislation would address that,” he said in an interview.
The bill came before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on Tuesday afternoon, where advocates testified in favor of its provisions. Speaking alongside the presidents of the Brookline and Malden educator’s unions, Massachusetts Teachers Association president Max Page said the “right to strike will mean fewer strikes.”
“At the moment bargaining begins, school committees and mayors will know that the clock is ticking,” he said. “They need to set aside their high-priced lawyers who are making millions off our school district, get to the table, bargain in good faith on the issues that are crucial to members and students.”
Uyterhoeven, who also testified at the hearing, said in an interview that the right to strike is a “foundational tenant of worker rights” that is “one of many tools” used to negotiate a fair contract.
“Without that, what we see happen — and we’re seeing this in Cambridge, and we see this across the state — is this prolonged, dragged out, hiring mediators, hiring lawyers,” she said. “It’s just this whole process.”
“I mean, we have all these issues that are left unresolved and dried up for so long — everyone in the community deserves better than that,” she added.
Despite the legal prohibition, teachers around the state have repeatedly gone on strike amid contentious contract negotiations. Justin Brown, the president of the Brookline Educators Union, testified about his union’s decision to go on strike amid a contract impasse with the city’s school committee.
“We were stonewalled at the table while the process was being stretched out by the school committee,” he said. “Knowing that a strike was illegal and that the other side would continue to draw it out, we felt like they were fighting with one hand tied behind our back.”
Chrissy Lynch, the president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, also testified in favor of the bill. In an interview, Lynch said that while a strike is never ideal, she believes it’s a necessary bargaining tools for educators across the state.
“I am a mother of kids in public schools, and I’ve seen how long contract negotiations have dragged out, and the stress that puts on educators who worked really, really hard to educate our kids,” she said. “And I think it’s only fair that they have every tool available to make sure that they get the best contracts possible.”
As the bill continues to make its way through the State House, Cambridge educators are preparing to escalate their negotiation tactics with the Cambridge Public School Committee. With negotiations now in their second year — and after nearly two months without a contract — the Cambridge Educators Association has held rallies, organized weekly work-to-contract demonstrations, and coordinated community letter-writing campaigns.
Until a new agreement is reached, the city’s educators remain employed under the terms of the previous contract.
Dan Monahan, the president of the CEA, was in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing.
Connolly said in an interview that if the CEA chooses to strike, he would “support them and stand with them,” though he added that it should “be a last resort” and that he hopes striking is “not necessary.”
“But at the end of the day, I think we’re sending the wrong message to our teachers and our other public sector employees,” he said. “We expect them to not only take on all the responsibilities of public service or teaching, but to be locked in a situation where they’re continuing with an outstanding contract.”
Correction: October 24, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the presidents of the Brookline and Waltham educator's unions spoke alongside Max Page at the hearing. In fact, the presidents of the Brookline and Malden unions spoke.
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