Malden teachers will return to classrooms Tuesday after their union and district leadership reached a tentative deal on a three-year contract Monday night, following a one-day strike. But educators in Haverhill plan to continue picketing into a second day, despite legal action to block their strike.
On Monday, thousands of students — more than 7,700 in Haverhill, and 6,100 in Malden, the majority of whom are low-income and students of color — were out of school while educators went on strike after contract negotiations collapsed over the weekend.
At a time when teacher strikes have swelled across the country and students have already fallen behind due to lost instructional time from the pandemic, the unions’ decision to strike follows several months of unsuccessful bargaining over the terms of their new three-year contract. Leaders with the Malden and Haverhill unions say they have been fighting for higher wages, smaller class sizes, and safer working conditions for students and staff.
Details of the deal between the Malden teachers and the school district were not immediately available Monday night.
“We know that this period of uncertainty has been difficult for parents, students, and staff,” said Malden Public Schools Superintendent Ligia Noriega-Murphy and School Committee chairman Gary Christenson, who is also the mayor of Malden, in a statement released late Monday.
“We are hopeful that the proposal that received preliminary approval at the bargaining table tonight marks the beginning of a new chapter for our school district, in which we all move forward together to engage in the vital work of teaching and learning.”
Late Monday, the Haverhill School Committee and the state Labor Relations Board secured a temporary restraining order from an Essex County Superior Court judge requiring teachers to end the strike. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning in which a judge will determine whether to grant a preliminary injunction.
In Massachusetts, public employees, including teachers, are barred from striking, and the unions could face fines for their actions.
In Malden, nearly 700 rank-and-file members on Monday walked the picket line at seven school locations around the city, including about 150 members at Malden High School. Teachers led students and staff in protest chants around the block while passing drivers honked in approval. Union members marched to Malden City Hall later in the day for a rally and returned to the bargaining table at 4 p.m.
The issue of compensating paraprofessionals “a living wage” had emerged as a sticking point, said Deb Gesualdo, president of the Malden Education Association, earlier Monday, before the deal was reached. Paraprofessionals, also known as teacher’s aides or teacher assistants, typically work one-on-one with students who need extra support due to complex medical conditions or learning disabilities.
Entry-level pay for Malden paraprofessionals starts between $20,761.53 and $29,788.52, depending on their position and credentials, according to their most recent contract.
In Haverhill, negotiations continued Monday while hundreds of educators picketed at least seven of the district’s schools. The discussions, mediated by the state Department of Labor Relations, ended shortly before 11:30 a.m., according to the Haverhill Education Association, when School Committee members abruptly left the bargaining table. (A spokeswoman for the School Committee’s bargaining team disputed the union’s characterization of their exit, saying negotiations had been scheduled to end at 10 a.m.) The parties reconvened at 4 p.m. Monday and negotiations continued into the night.
Tim Briggs, president of the Haverhill Education Association, said the union also is seeking more teacher planning time, a stronger commitment to racial justice, and increased transparency from school administration. The union is also asking the district to create a trust to recruit teachers from underrepresented communities.
“The only issue they want to talk about is compensation,” Briggs said. “We are out until we get a contract.”
Latin teacher Connor Hayden was one of roughly 200 educators and students walking the picket line Monday outside Haverhill High School. Hayden said he has watched many talented teachers leave the district for other school systems that pay better.
“That’s just not right for our kids,” Hayden said. “It’s not going to make our school or community better if we can’t retain teachers who love teaching and are enthusiastic about teaching in a community like Haverhill.”
Haverhill High senior Joysmer Minaya marched alongside his teachers Monday. As a student in advanced-placement courses, he said he wanted to be in school but added, “it’s a good day to just take a step back and realize what teachers are fighting for and to get out here and support them.”
According to state data, Haverhill teachers were paid an average of about $74,300 in 2019-2020, about $10,000 less than the statewide average of about $84,600, while Malden’s teachers earned slightly more than the state average, about $84,800.
Haverhill School Committee member Scott Wood said school officials offered a total package of $20 million in raises to the teachers.
“We greatly respect the hard work of our amazing teaching staff and we believe this offer is proof of that,” Wood said in a statement. “We find it reprehensible that the union leadership has led our teachers down this road.”
Teacher strikes have surged across the country since 2018, with thousands of educators walking off the job in hundreds of districts. Melissa Arnold Lyon, an assistant professor at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY has tracked more than 700 teacher strikes in the United States since 2007.
Lyon said most teacher strikes are motivated by conflicts over pay and benefits, but since the pandemic, Lyon has noticed an increase in strikes related to issues affecting non-instructional staff and students, like immigration and affordable housing.
There is little research on the impact of teacher strikes in the United States on student learning, according to Lyon. Teacher strikes in the United States have lasted, on average, no longer than 5 days, according to Lyon’s research, whereas teacher strikes in countries where learning loss was documented went on for several months.
“There’s kind of this tradeoff between the length of time, the cost of the loss of instructional time, and then what teachers are able to gain at the bargaining table,” Lyon said. “And sometimes what teachers are gaining at the bargaining table through the strike is actually kind of counteracting the loss of four or five days [of school].”
Teachers in Brookline went on strike in May, closing all nine of the district’s schools. After spending hours in negotiations deep into the night, the district and educators announced an agreement, reopening schools the following day. As part of the deal, the union agreed to pay $50,000 in damages.
Globe correspondents Breanne Kovatch and Nick Stoico contributed to this report.
Deanna Pan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @DDpan. Julian E.J. Sorapuru is a Development Fellow at the Globe and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JulianSorapuru