Haverhill schools will remain closed Wednesday for the third consecutive day as members of the district’s teachers union continue to strike, violating a new court injunction demanding they stop.
The district announced Tuesday evening that the latest bargaining session between the Haverhill Education Association and School Committee had stalled. Union leadership said their members are prepared to hold the line until a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract is struck.
“The HEA made an offer today that was very reasonable and had concessions to get school open. We expected the School Committee members we are negotiating with to agree to it,” Barry Davis, first vice president of the Haverhill teachers union, wrote in an e-mail to supporters. “They rejected all of our student-focused language to make our schools better and to support our community.”
The Haverhill School Committee and the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board secured a temporary restraining order late Monday afternoon from an Essex County Superior Court judge requiring teachers to end the strike. Following a hearing Tuesday at Essex County Superior Court in Newburyport, Judge James Lang issued an injunction, ordering all teachers to report back to work and union leaders to stop encouraging any strike activity.
If the strike persists, the Haverhill Education Association could be held in civil contempt of the court for violating the injunction, and forced to pay fines.
The Haverhill teachers union on Tuesday picketed at schools across the district. Outside Haverhill High School, nearly 150 educators and dozens of students turned out for the demonstration, marching in a circle with protest signs on the front lawn. The atmosphere was lively: Protesters shimmied to “The Electric Slide,” blaring on a set of speakers. Liz Briggs, second vice president of the union and wife of union president Tim Briggs, led a few chants.
“We want to get back into schools, but we know that we have to stay strong ‘til the committee is ready to listen to our demands,” Briggs said.
The union and School Committee’s negotiating teams returned to the bargaining table at 1 p.m. for another session with a Labor Relations Board mediator. While negotiations continued, several hundred protesters, including teachers, parents and students, rallied on the grounds of Haverhill City Hall.
“We sure as hell ain’t gonna let no injunction turn us around,” said teacher Tom Jordan, to rousing cheers and applause from the crowd.
In an interview later with The Boston Globe, Jordan, who leads the history department at Haverhill High, said the strike is the culmination of many years of “long, building, simmering frustration” with the School Committee and the city’s mayor, James J. Fiorentini. The hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed teachers to fight for a better contract, he said.
“America came out of a very trying time psychologically, with his whole COVID thing, and I think we stepped out of COVID and right into a really disrespectful contract,” Jordan said. “That kind of made us say we’ve had enough.”
Briggs said the union and the School Committee are trying to work out a fair compensation package for Haverhill teachers, who earn less than teachers in neighboring districts. 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.
The union had originally asked the School Committee to raise teacher wages by 22 percent over three years, according to Briggs. The School Committee has since countered the union’s proposal, Briggs said, and offered to raise wages by about 10 percent over the three-year contract.
“We keep losing teachers to the different districts. People can’t afford to stay here because other schools, frankly, pay so much more,” she said.
Haverhill Superintendent Margaret Marotta said in a statement Monday night that “progress continues, but frustrations can be seen on both sides and no agreement has been reached.”
Meanwhile in Malden, schools reopened Tuesday morning after the teachers union and district leaders reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract Monday night, ending a one-day strike that shuttered all campuses.
After contract negotiations failed over the weekend, both Malden and Haverhill school districts were closed Monday as hundreds of educators picketed their campuses, leaving nearly 14,000 students — mostly low-income and students of color — out of school.
Deb Gesualdo, president of the Malden Education Association, declined to share any details about the tentative agreement, which have not been disclosed yet to all of the union’s members or the full School Committee. The Malden teachers union was slated to hold an information meeting with its members Tuesday night and schedule a formal ratification vote for later.
Gesualdo said union members were relieved when they learned an agreement had been struck.
“People are happy because they get to be back with their students today and that’s really what everyone wanted,” she said.
Malden Public Schools Superintendent Ligia Noriega-Murphy and School Committee chairman Gary Christenson, who is also the mayor of Malden, said in a statement released late Monday they are hopeful the proposal “marks the beginning of a new chapter for our district, in which we will all move forward together.”
In Massachusetts, public employees, including teachers, are barred from striking. The Malden School Committee filed a petition Monday with the state Department of Labor Relations, requesting an investigation into the union’s strike.
Gesualdo said union members voted to authorize Monday’s strike with “eyes wide open,” knowing they would face potential penalties.
“We went into everything knowing exactly what we were doing,” she said. “We’ll hopefully be able to give details about the outcome of all of that shortly.”