Metro, Politics, Newton

Newton Parents Demonstrate at City Hall Amid NTA Strike Rumors

Newton Public Schools (NPS) parents gathered in front of Newton City Hall Wednesday morning to advocate for fair teacher contracts amid rumors of an upcoming Newton Teachers Association (NTA) strike.

“Legally, [the NTA is] not allowed to strike, but I think it’s well within their rights,” Angier Elementary School parent Tim De Chant said.

The rally follows messages from Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and the Newton School Committee on Tuesday warning community members of an alleged NTA vote for a teachers’ strike that would begin Friday, Jan. 19.

“The Newton Public Schools have information that the Newton Teachers Association is asking its members for a vote this Thursday, Jan. 18, to strike beginning the following day,” Fuller wrote in her weekly email update to Newton citizens.

According to Fuller’s email update, the school committee filed a petition for a strike investigation on Tuesday. 

Warnings of a strike vote surfaced in Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) newsletters earlier this week. An F.A. Day Middle School PTO newsletter sent Tuesday morning also warned that a vote would likely take place Thursday.

“This would mean no school for our children on Friday and an additional day of school in June,” the newsletter reads. 

NPS teachers have been working without a contract since September 2023, and the union and the school committee have been in negotiations since October 2022. According to the NTA website, the union demands include higher cost-of-living adjustments, as well as increased preparatory time and reinforced support staff.

In an open letter published Wednesday morning to Superintendent Anna Nolin, School Committee Chair Chris Brezski, and others, NTA President Michael Zilles expressed frustration with current negotiations.

“[Fuller and Brezski], in different ways, spoke last night of the chronic underfunding of the schools,” Zilles said. “Both of you acknowledged that educators are working harder now than they ever have. At the bargaining table, and in your public representation of our negotiations, you continue to expect the members of the NTA to pick up the tab for what the Mayor won’t pay. We will not.”

Dan Evans, a parent with children at Horace Mann Elementary School, interpreted the Tuesday message from the city as a fear-mongering tactic for working parents in the district.

“I believe the mayor and the school committee used that almost as a scare tactic for people who don’t have the ability to find [child]care during something like this,” Evans said. 

Previously, the city filed another strike petition to investigate the NTA in September of last year, after teachers boycotted a convocation ceremony. The school committee called this action a “work stoppage,” while the NTA claimed the ceremony was optional and that they were within their rights not to attend.

“We need a fair contract, and, in the future, we need to be invited to attend a convocation,” Zilles wrote in an NTA bulletin on Aug. 29. “An event that has always been voluntary is just that: voluntary.”

While the NTA has not made any official announcements about an upcoming strike as of Wednesday, Angier Elementary School parent Angela Messmer-Blust sees it as a likelihood.

“It would be unfortunate for us as working parents to have the kids home, but we also, I think, understand why they would need to go to that level,” Messmer-Blust said.

In a speech to the crowd of demonstrators, Ward 5 Councilor Bill Humphrey endorsed the NTA’s right to go on strike if necessary.

“It is also a moral and constitutional right of any worker, individually or organized, to withdraw their labor, if necessary, as a means of getting a fair contract,” Humphrey said. “That is always a last resort and if that’s what happens, we know something has gone terribly wrong in the bargaining process.”

Alison Lobron, founder of the Parent/Educator Collaborative, said the NTA has taken other actions in the past to raise awareness for its demands, but that these have not been effective in arriving at an acceptable contract with the city.

“[The NTA has] written letters, they’ve called their elected officials, they’ve done a work-to-rule, they’ve done everything they possibly can, short of a strike, to get elected officials’ attention, and it hasn’t worked,” Lobron said. 

According to Lobron, an NTA strike is avoidable.

“A strike is a possibility, but I don’t think it has to happen,” Lobron said. “The teachers want to resolve this at the bargaining table. So if there ends up being a strike, it’s because … they don’t have what they need from the mayor to make a better contract.”

January 18, 2024