Brookline teachers rallied in celebration at Brookline Town Hall Tuesday afternoon and described a “jubilant” atmosphere in their schools when classes resumed that morning after a successful one-day strike.
Negotiators had announced a tentative agreement ending the strike around 4:20 a.m. Tuesday.
At the rally, teachers eating popsicles and listening to union songs and Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5″ thanked the union leadership and said they hoped their deal set a precedent.
“Not only have we won a fair contract, but I hope this sends a message across the Commonwealth,” said Ben Stein, a middle school English teacher at the Lincoln school.
The two sides stayed up until deep into the morning Tuesday negotiating for the second time in three days — a similar marathon session Saturday night, aimed at averting the strike, failed to result in a deal after nine hours of talks. Monday night’s negotiations went almost 12 hours. Rank and file went to sleep ready to return either to the picket line or to the classroom, members said.
Union negotiations chairman Eric Schiff, a high school guidance counselor, attributed the agreement to the union showing they were “serious about a contract.”
“Business as usual was not going to cut it anymore,” Schiff said. “We did not want to be striking. We did not want to be out of the classroom.”
The agreement will have to be ratified by both sides, with ratification votes expected within a couple of weeks.
The union, which represents more than 1,000 educators, said the strike came after three years of negotiations with the School Committee. Among their asks, the educators were seeking pay increases, recruiting and retaining educators of color and underrepresented backgrounds, and daily periods of “duty-free time,” which would allow time for preparative work without disruptions of other duties.
The School Committee said it had reached an agreement for a 6 percent increase in wages and stipends from 2020 to 2023, followed by an 8 percent increase from 2023 to 2026, followed by an additional 1 percent increase in August 2026. Those pay raises are in addition to the contractual step raises teachers get based on years of experience.
Those numbers match a School Committee proposal released Saturday. The average Brookline teacher made just over $100,000 last year, according to state data, although salaries range by more than $50,000 between the lowest- and highest-paid teachers.
The deal also includes increased “longevity pay” up to $5,000 for the district’s longest-tenured teachers. The agreement makes longevity pay a percentage of pay, rather than a fixed amount, meaning it will not need to be negotiated in each future contract, union President Jessica Wender-Shubow said.
Under the proposed deal, there will also be a working group “to enhance the district’s ability to attract and retain a diverse workforce,” and the agreement included language to ensure that teachers receive adequate daily prep time.
Brad Marianno, an assistant professor of educational policy at the University of Nevada Las Vegas who follows teacher’s strikes around the country, said the union’s demands reflect a broader trend.
“You’re seeing this marrying of traditional union bread and butter working conditions, like salary, prep time and class sizes ... coupled with more progressive demands like diversifying the educator workforce,” Marianno said.
But the Brookline teachers won unusually large raises, as 2- to-3 percent increases are typical, Marianno said.
The influx of federal funds, concern about pandemic learning loss, and the tight labor market all enable teachers to up their demands, Marianno said.
“They will look at this as a favorable case for a strike,” he said. “The school district is not interested in long disruptions to learning.”
Support for strikes often begins high and declines over time, Marianno said, and divisions among parents were apparent before the strike even began.
Natalia Sarkisian, the mother of a kindergarten student at the Driscoll school, said she supported the teachers’ strike but was “relieved to see the contract signed and that they did not have to go any further.”
Sarkisian, a sociology professor at Boston College, said she signed up to take care of two other children through a spreadsheet distributed by the PTO.
“Childcare wasn’t a problem for me,” she said. “It would have been a big challenge for many parents.”
Her daughter Mila Bolay, 6, had a different view on the strike ending.
“I didn’t want school today,” Mila said.
The deal, according to the School Committee statement, would guarantee daily prep periods for middle and high school teachers and, starting in 2025, specialists such as art and physical education teachers. The district would also have to ensure the existing guaranteed time for elementary school teachers is spread out so they have at least one period each day, Schiff said.
Wender-Shubow highlighted the agreement on diverse hiring.
“I think it is of tremendous importance that a commitment to racial justice now has a place in a binding contract,” she said.
Schiff attributed the breakthrough Tuesday morning not to any individual bargaining point but to both sides being motivated to get a job done and return to school.
“We recognize that the process of arriving at these agreements has been a strain,” the committee said in the statement. “We thank students, caregivers, and the community for their patience and understanding, as we finalized these agreements that will further advance Brookline’s mission of an excellent education for every child.”
Strikes are illegal for public employees in Massachusetts and the action was enjoined, or prohibited, by a judge Sunday. Under an order holding the union in contempt issued Monday, the union faced escalating fines beginning at $50,000 for each day.
As part of the tentative deal reached Tuesday morning, the union agreed to pay $50,000 in damages in exchange for the district not pursuing fines related to the contempt order, Wender-Shubow said.
Brookline schools will have to make up for Monday in June, after the scheduled end of the school year, the district said in a FAQ posted Sunday.
In a statement released Tuesday, Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy and Vice President Max Page congratulated the Brookline union and called the proposed deal “a victory for public educators across the state.”
The deal reached Tuesday covers an unusually-long term for a Massachusetts teachers contract — six years, going back to the 2020-2021 school year and ending with the 2025-2026 school year.
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