Woburn teacher reps sound downbeat note as strike enters third day

Woburn teachers strike in front of Woburn Memorial High School on January 30, 2023. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Woburn teachers strike in front of Woburn Memorial High School on January 30, 2023. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin said late Tuesday teachers and city officials failed to reach a deal, meaning schools will be closed again on Wednesday.

"Unfortunately we were unable to reach a deal tonight," Galvin told reporters.

Amid a deadlock in contract negotiations, Woburn public school teachers have been on strike since Monday, despite a court order threatening large fines.

Late Monday night, a judge in Middlesex County Superior Court granted the city's request for a preliminary injunction to halt the strike.

Massachusetts state law prohibits public sector employees from striking.

Union officials argued the law makes labor disputes drag on longer than they otherwise might, and works against teachers and other public employees with legitimate demands.

“[City officials] can sit there: showing up, twiddling their thumbs … and there’s nothing substantive to stop them," said Max Page, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which represents the Woburn Teachers Association.

The Woburn union includes over 550 educators. The school district serves roughly 4,300 kids. Classes were canceled starting Monday after weekend talks failed.

The union’s outstanding demands include a pay hike for district paraprofessionals, or support staff; expanded access to physical education in schools; and a cost-of-living adjustment for teachers.

The action is just one of a string of recent educator rallies in school districts around the state — including in Malden, Haverhill, Brookline and Melrose — to hike teacher pay and improve classroom conditions.

The longest of those strikes was a four-day standoff in Haverhill in October, which ended with a late-night tentative agreement that increased pay in the district.

'Right to strike' as legislative priority

This legislative session, Page and MTA leadership are pushing for new legislation that would restore the right to strike for public sector unions after six months of bargaining. The MTA argues the law might actually decrease the risk of such strikes by bringing balance and stakes to negotiations.

Barbara Locke, president of the Woburn Teachers Association, sounded downbeat as she addressed a midday rally on Woburn Common Tuesday during a break from negotiations.

“It doesn’t look really great, you guys. I hate to be pessimistic — but it’s gonna be hard,” Locke said, before pledging to “hold the line” before a chanting crowd of hundreds.

She said Woburn police had moved to exclude people without Woburn Public Schools credentials from the bargaining table Monday night. She called it a “tactic” by Galvin.

Citing the city’s reserve cash of over $68 million, Locke told the crowd: “It’s just amazing to me that they’re just not saying, ‘OK.’ "

"We’re not asking for a real lot," she added. "With all of the money that this city has, why wouldn’t you do that?”

Given that the strike continued Tuesday in spite of an injunction, the state’s labor watchdog, the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board, filed a complaint for contempt. The judge could assess five-figure fines against both the local and statewide unions.

In that filing, the CERB requested fines of $50,000, to increase by $10,000 daily, for each day the Woburn teachers continue their strike beyond Tuesday at 5 p.m.

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, no break in the impasse seemed likely, threatening a third day of school closures for Woburn students.

Page said such fines are another structural factor working against public unions, which have showed willingness to "bargain all night long," he said.

"[Woburn city officials] have several times simply walked away ... You almost think that what they really want is to try to [incur] fines — that that’s their real goal,” he said.

Locke filed an affidavit in Middlesex County Superior Court Tuesday stating that the union “intends to bargain continuously, without interruption and indefinitely, until the terms of a successor agreement are in place.”

In a statement, Mayor Galvin and the Woburn School Committee stressed that they remain “committed to bargaining in good faith.” They added that the judge found that Woburn “students will be harmed by not being able to attend classes as scheduled,” and urged WTA educators to “comply with this ruling.”


Headshot of Max Larkin

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



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