The American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts scrapped plans to fight legislation that would reduce the role of seniority in teacher staffing decisions and instead will remain neutral on the issue, the state’s second-largest teachers union announced Wednesday.
The legislation, unveiled earlier this month, is on the fast track to secure approval in the state Legislature and aims to stave off an emotionally divisive ballot question that called for more sweeping changes. The teachers federation had initially promised an aggressive fight against what it called “extreme legislation.’’
But in a statement Wednesday, the federation softened its position while remaining skeptical about the legislation.
“The AFT Massachusetts has deep reservations about the compromise bill, but recognizes that it is far less harmful to our Commonwealth’s first-in-the-nation schools than the misguided ballot question,” the statement said. “For that reason alone, we will neither support nor oppose the proposed legislation.”
The teachers federation issued the statement as the state’s largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO Massachusetts, also announced [that it no longer would oppose the legislation, although it, too, expressed continued apprehension. The teachers federation is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
“We believe that the far-reaching policy changes sought through the ballot question set a dangerous precedent for education policy-making, the ballot referendum, and legislative processes while failing to help students,” the organization said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our positive relationships with the in-state stakeholders and teaching professionals who truly care about the educational opportunities for students across the Commonwealth.”
The growing momentum for the legislation had put the two unions in a difficult position.
The state’s largest teachers union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, worked with legislative leaders to strike a compromise with the nonprofit Stand for Children Massachusetts, the organizer of the ballot question. The Massachusetts association said it believed a compromise was in the best interest of teachers.
The Massachusetts association considered the ballot question long and confusing and worried that passage would take away even more job security rights of teachers than the compromise legislation.
Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, which belongs to the teachers federation, said in an interview Wednesday night that it made no sense to wage a battle over legislation that already had garnered the support of the highest-ranking officials on Beacon Hill: Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. It is expected to land on the governor’s desk by July 3.
“We are not fighting it, because it’s a done deal,” Stutman said.
Jason Williams, executive director of Stand for Children Massachusetts, was pleased the two union organizations have decided not to fight the legislation. “It’s a positive step,” Williams said. “I feel there is strong momentum toward passage.”
Locally, support for the legislation appears to be is growing. The Boston City Council voted 8-5 Wednesday for a resolution supporting the measure. The vote was symbolic and does not directly impact the pending legislation.