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As Cambridge Students Return to Class, Teachers Union Remains Without New Contract

The Cambridge Education Association is a union representing teachers and education employees working in the Cambridge Public Schools district.
The Cambridge Education Association is a union representing teachers and education employees working in the Cambridge Public Schools district. By Frank S. Zhou
By Sally E. Edwards and Dylan H. Phan, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated: September 8, 2023, at 6:13 p.m.

The Cambridge Education Association is without a contract after negotiations with the Cambridge School Committee failed to reach a new agreement ahead of the previous contract’s expiration on Aug. 31 — meaning talks will continue into the new school year.

The CEA and School Committee have met 24 times since October 2022 to negotiate a three-year contract for teachers across the district to replace the previous contract. After spending nearly 83 hours negotiating, the two parties have reached tentative agreements on 37 proposals, though mediation by the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations remains ongoing.

Under Massachusetts labor law, the terms of the previous contract will continue to apply until a new agreement is reached. In addition, state law prohibits educators from striking, as public employees in Massachusetts have no constitutional right to strike. Notably, however, teachers unions throughout the state have shown a willingness to strike illegally amid contract impassess — including strikes in Woburn, Malden, and Haverhill.

Dan Monahan — the president of the CEA — primarily attributes the delay on a new contract to a lack of agreement on appropriate compensation for education workers.

“Our educators can’t afford to live here,” Monahan said in an interview. “Only 20 percent of our Unit A members — which are mostly teachers — only 20 percent of them live in Cambridge.”

“Compare the wages for staff, for educators, to professionals with similar educational experience — master’s degree, five to 10 years of experience — those folks make a ton more money than educators do,” he added.

The School Committee has proposed to increase the salaries of all teachers by 2.5 percent, 3 percent, and 3 percent across the next three years, respectively, whereas the CEA has proposed 2.5, 3, and 7 percent increases.

Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80, a member of the Cambridge City Council and former member of the School Committee, said the inability of many educators to find Cambridge housing speaks more to the lack of affordable housing in the city, rather than teachers’ wages.

“I think the city should be addressing the need for affordable housing for middle-income people,” said Nolan. “Teachers make an excellent salary in Cambridge, and yet they can’t even afford to live here.”

Monahan points to teachers’ compensation as a significant source of the recent staffing shortage within the teaching profession. Currently, the Cambridge Public Schools Job Listings website has 195 live applications for educators, administrators, and other professionals.

“Why this really matters — particularly right now — is that there’s a huge teacher shortage, and educators are leaving the profession,” Monahan said. “We’ve had higher turnover this year than we’ve ever had before.”

In addition to educators leaving the profession, fewer people are entering the teaching profession as “the pipeline for educators coming in is drying up,” according to Monahan.

Nolan attributes the “inherent tension” in negotiations between the CEA and School Committee to the divergent interests of both parties.

“The Educators’ Association has a goal of supporting the educators in the district, and the School Committee has a larger charge of supporting students in the district,” she said. “There are definitely times when it can be challenging to figure out whether some particular proposal is good for students or only good for teachers.”

As the two parties continue to negotiate through the start of the school year, there may be “differences” on school campuses.

“It is possible that you may notice some differences in the school buildings and classrooms as we open school in the midst of these contract negotiations,” wrote Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and CPS Superintendent Victoria L. Greer in an Aug. 31 statement. “You may see educators demonstrating outside the buildings before and after the contractual school day.”

“We hope we won’t have to get to that place,” Monahan said, in regards to the possibility of interrupting student learning. “If we get a good agreement, then that won’t happen.”

—Staff Writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at Follow her on X @sallyedwards04.

—Staff writer Dylan H. Phan can be reached at Follow him on X @dylanhieuphan.

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