Following stalled negotiations with district leaders, teachers in Melrose will go on strike next week if they cannot agree on new contracts by Tuesday, union officials said Friday.
Melrose Education Association members overwhelmingly voted to authorize the strike after working without a contact since June. In a statement, the union said educators have been dealing with inadequate pay and working conditions that have led to a staffing shortage and “strained the ability to meet the needs of all students.”
“This prolonged bargaining and the refusal on the part of Mayor (Paul) Brodeur and School Committee to properly invest in our schools is disheartening and disrespectful,” the union said in a statement on Friday. “We remain hopeful that the School Committee bargaining team will meet with the MEA bargaining team as soon as possible.”
The union is demanding the mayor and the School Committee make the proper investments into the schools, pushing for fair compensation, better working conditions, and increased preparation time given to teachers.
The Melrose Education Association has about 450 members and represents teachers, counselors, school psychologists, librarians, teacher aides, and other educators. The educators are planning to hold a rally at 1 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Knoll Park.
“Our decision to strike is not an easy one to make,” the statement said. “However, we also no longer can ignore the unmet needs of our students because Mayor Brodeur and the School Committee will not fund a contract that supports the public schools that Melrose deserves.”
In December, the district filed for mediation, an action involving the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations to assist both parties in resolving outstanding issues and reaching a resolution when negotiations stall. The district heard back from the department Thursday afternoon, according to Brodeur, indicating it will assist in the mediation.
But an outside mediator only will delay negotiations by keeping the association and School Committee from meeting together and likely will cost the city more money, the union said in a statement.
Brodeur said in a statement on Friday that the School Committee’s bargaining team will continue to negotiate until they reach an agreement that’s fair to the teachers and “meets the needs of our students and families, and is financially sustainable.”
“District leaders are currently focused on two things: ensuring that our students have access to meals during the school day in the event of a strike, and continuing communications with (Department of Labor Relations) mediators and the MEA, whom we informed today that we are ready and available to continue negotiating over the weekend,” Brodeur said. “Unlike a strike, mediation offers the best opportunity for parties to come to an agreement without impacting our students.”
Melrose Public School Superintendent Julie Kukenberger had previously sent out to a letter to families asking them to make alternative plans for their children since a strike could shutter campuses.
“The School Committee and the Superintendent will have no choice but to close schools for students only when the strike occurs, including all after-school programs, extracurricular activities, and athletics,” Kukenberger warned in the letter.
Massachusetts public employees, including teachers, are barred from striking under state law, and can be fined for such actions. But in the last year, multiple teacher unions across the state went on strike, including in Brookline, Haverhill, and Malden. Schools were shuttered between one and four days in those districts before the unions and their districts reached contract agreements.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is pushing for legislation that would legalize the right to strike to all public sector workers, including teachers, except those in public safety.
Several local teacher unions from Brookline, Cambridge, Malden, and more said in a joint statement on Friday that they are ready to offer any support Melrose educators need for their strike and will be attending their rally on Sunday.
“Our unions stand in solidarity with union educators in Melrose who are fighting for a fair contract, respect in the workplace, and the schools their students deserve,” the unions said in a joint statement. “We condone the withholding of their labor and encourage the members of the Melrose Education Association to remain steadfast in their demands for better working conditions for educators and better learning conditions for students.”