The Wellesley teachers’ union voted Friday night to ratify a new contract with the Wellesley School Committee, a union official said, staving off a potential strike.
Wellesley Educators Association President Kyle Gekopi confirmed the union voted to accept a new four-year contract, which will replace an agreement that expired last June.
“I am pleased we have come to a settlement that demonstrates measurable progress on all of the WEA’s core priorities,” Gekopi said in an e-mail late Friday.
Wellesley Public Schools did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment late Friday night.
The vote on Friday night came after the School Committee on Thursday asked the state Department of Labor Relations for help in preventing a potential strike as early as Monday.
Wellesley’s teacher contract battle is the latest flashpoint in a period of growing tensions between school districts and unions that has prompted educator strikes this school year in Malden, Haverhill, and Woburn. Although state law prohibits public employees from striking, some unions have decided drastic action is worthwhile in the long run, despite the steep fines and other costs, such as police details, that can be imposed.
The talks in Wellesley became increasingly acrimonious in the last several months. The union in March issued a vote of no confidence in the School Committee and Superintendent David Lussier over their handling of the talks, which recently have involved a state mediator. And the school administration has been quietly gathering information about the union’s alleged plans to potentially strike.
The School Committee’s latest contract offer, as of Thursday night, represented an $11.57 million increase over four years, a more generous increase than in its previous offer. Sticking points included pay for paraeducators, who assist teachers in classrooms, and paid parental leave for union members to bond with their new family members.
The School Committee has said it’s willing to immediately bump up para pay from $25,413 annually this school year to approximately $32,275, and eventually up to $36,205 of “potential earnings” at the end of the four years of the contract.
Although the union remains unsatisfied with the wage proposal for paras, the union said in its Tweets the increases were still a victory and vowed to keep working on the issue through “other avenues.”
In organizing a potential strike, the Wellesley Educators Association attempted to maintain secrecy, using the word “cookie” for strike, according to a copy of a petition the School Committee filed Thursday with the state Department of Labor Relations.
“Do you like cookies?” they asked members in a straw-like poll in March, according to the petition. Most members indicated “yes” or “likely yes.”
But school administration caught on.
“The Union’s activity includes not-so-secret attempts to assess the viability of a vote to strike and assessments of which members may vote which way on a strike,” the School Committee’s petition said.
The administration first began hearing concerns from union members that union leadership was orchestrating a strike vote, and that they were using the code word “cookie.” Administrators then routinely searched the district’s electronic systems for any reference to “cookie” and unearthed evidence supporting what they were hearing.
Among the documents was a spreadsheet tracking members’ responses in the straw-like poll to the question: “Do you like cookies?” Although a majority expressed support, some shared concerns in a comment section, including potential loss of pay or retaliation by administration.
Administration eventually learned the vote, originally slated for March, had been postponed until May 12.
Other evidence of a potential strike mounted. On May 8, a state mediator told the School Committee that some union leaders had called the state labor department to discuss the consequences of a potential strike, the petition said. The next day, the union held a membership meeting, and a union member later told administration that a strike was discussed, the petition said.
On Thursday, a teacher sent a text message to a School Committee member, which stated: “Strong word is, they are planning a strike on Monday.”
“The teacher’s text also expressed concern about the union leadership, including that the bargaining unit members were not allowed to vote on the School Committee’s most recent proposal in mediation,” the petition said.
An earlier version of the story had an incorrect list of where educator strikes occurred this year. They happened in Malden, Haverhill, and Woburn.
Globe correspondent Nick Stoico contributed to this report.
James Vaznis can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.