A Middlesex Superior Court judge reduced the fines against the Newton Teachers Association (NTA) for its strike to a flat, cumulative rate of $50,000 per school day until the union reaches a contract.
If the NTA does not end its strike by 8:00 p.m. Sunday, the additional $50,000 fine will take effect.
As of Friday, the union has been fined a total of $375,000 for its strike, which has closed all Newton Public Schools (NPS) for six school days. The district serves more than 11,000 students.
Two hearings took place on Friday to reevaluate the NTA’s punishment for its strike. In his ruling, Judge Christopher Barry-Smith expressed concern that escalating fines could impede fair negotiations.
“I will continue to assess fines but discontinue escalating fines on a daily basis because I perceive a risk that such large, escalating fines would undermine effective and fair collective bargaining,” Barry-Smith wrote.
In a press conference posted to Instagram Friday evening, Newton South High School teacher Ryan Normandin said the escalating fine structure gave the Newton School Committee (NSC) incentive to stall negotiations and wait for the union to run out of funds, forcing teachers to return to work.
“We really hope that the school committee will feel less inclined to try to wait us out,” Normandin said. “Fines or no fines, they were never going to be able to wait us out, but hopefully they have less of an incentive to do so.”
According to Newton North High School teacher Denise Cremin, contract negotiations stalled after some progress on Wednesday.
“We thought on Wednesday that we were going to be getting somewhere and that we were negotiating, and now on Thursday, [the NSC] had no counter proposals for us at all,” Cremin said.
In an affidavit filed Friday afternoon, NPS Superintendent Anna Nolin testified that the NSC has responded to all the NTA’s proposals throughout negotiations.
“During mediation, the Committee has responded to all of the NTA’s proposals and has made counter proposals to many of the NTA’s proposals,” Nolin said.
The parties have been negotiating through a state-appointed mediator throughout the strike. They began on Friday, Jan. 19 with in-person meetings, then switched to mediation in separate rooms, per Nolin’s testimony. The union and school committee negotiated briefly in small groups Thursday morning.
Nolin testified that actions from NTA bargaining representative Gregory Shea created “tension” during negotiations, which prompted the decision to switch to mediation in separate rooms.
“Chair [Chris] Brezski handed out a proposal on the Time and Learning Agreement which we were prepared to explain, to which Mr. Shea yelled, ‘This is it? This is all you have?’” Nolin said. “The NTA’s bargaining team began to shout then walked out.”
Normandin said that in-person negotiations would help the school committee and union reach an agreement faster.
“We believe that meeting in person will only expedite the process of setting this contract, so we do not understand why the school committee has been so reluctant to meet with us in person,” Normandin said.