Malden teachers, officials have reached a tentative agreement. In Haverhill, city fights strike in court

Educators on the picket line on Salem St., outside Malden High School. (Max Larkin/WBUR)
Educators on the picket line on Salem St., outside Malden High School. (Max Larkin/WBUR)

School was out Monday for nearly 14,000 students in Malden and Haverhill, where teachers are on strike.

Late Monday evening, Malden teachers and the school committee reached a tentative new three-year agreement, school officials announced. School will resume for Malden students on Tuesday.

And in Haverhill, city officials are fighting back in court. State law prohibits all public employees, including educators, from going on strike, and the city's school committee secured a temporary restraining order against the labor action in Essex County Superior Court Monday afternoon.

A judge will contemplate an injunction that would end the strike — or subject participants to fines — at a hearing Tuesday morning.

The twin strikes went forward Monday after eleventh-hour negotiations failed between union leaders and the cities' school committees. The unions argue that teachers' wages in both districts are comparatively low and that classes are overcrowded, while city officials say fully meeting the unions' demands would place too much strain on annual budgets.

In Malden, salaries were the sticking point that kept the two sides from an agreement Sunday, said Douglas Dias, lead negotiator for the district's unionized administrators.

"In a district as diverse as ours, to see too many of our teachers going off into the suburbs and getting more pay is saddening," said Dias, who oversees the district's STEM learning. "Our kids deserve those quality educators." (According to the state, nearly 60% of Malden students spoke a first language other than English last year.)

Union leaders in Malden said about 100 educators have left the district in the past year, with many seeking higher pay — and leaving dozens of positions in Malden unfilled.

The Malden Education Association made handouts in several languages used in the city, including Vietnamese, Haitian Creole and Spanish. (Max Larkin/WBUR)
The Malden Education Association prepared handouts in several languages used in the city, including Vietnamese, Haitian Creole and Spanish. (Max Larkin/WBUR)

During a sizable picket Monday morning, teachers outside Malden High School got supportive honks, and were flanked by a handful of sympathetic students and neighbors.

Senior Penelope Buckingham said her teachers were being "treated like garbage" by city officials, and noted that paraprofessionals in Malden earn an entry-level salary around $23,000 a year — well below a living wage, as calculated at MIT for Greater Boston.

Paraprofessionals and other student-support staff earn much less than teachers statewide, but Malden Education Association President Deb Gesualdo said they can make considerably more in cities within 20 minutes of Malden, like Cambridge or Arlington.

Gesualdo noted that, with both federal and state aid pouring into the district, "the money is there" to increase educator salaries by more than the 2% proposed by city officials.

While both striking locals are members of the statewide Massachusetts Teachers Association, its president Max Page said the state organization played little role in coordinating the joint strike. "The MTA is a beautiful confederation of 400 locals," Page said. "And they talk to each other and work together."

In a written statement published Monday afternoon, the negotiating committee for the city of Malden said it offered a one-year, 24% raise for paraprofessionals, as well as 2.5% to 4% annual raises for teachers and unionized administrators, which it called "an unprecedented offer that reflects the importance we place on education."

The committee wrote that that offer is "not without risk," since it relies on temporary funds and state education aid to increase at its current rate. Finally, the statement confirmed that the city is requesting a state mediator, citing "little movement [in] the union's position."

City officials in Malden reported no plans for further negotiations as of Monday afternoon.

Both cities' mayors are watching negotiations from a distance, due to potential conflicts of interest. Malden Mayor Gary Christenson's sister is an educator at Malden's Ferryway K-8 School. And because longtime Haverhill Mayor Jim Fiorentini's son is a member of the striking union, he declined to comment on the proceedings.

But Shawn Regan, a spokesperson for Haverhill, says the city has doubled its education budget in the past decade, and that both sides planned to resume negotiations starting at 4 p.m. on Monday.

During a press availability Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged that the state labor-relations officials were "pretty actively involved in mediating" in both cities' disputes.

Hours before the restraining order was issued Monday, Baker noted that "it's against the law [for teachers] to strike" in Massachusetts. There's pressure on negotiators in Haverhill Monday evening to reach agreement with the prospect of a court injunction looming.

With reporting from WBUR's Suevon Lee, Amanda Beland and Steve Brown.

This article was originally published on October 17, 2022.


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Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin is an education reporter.



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