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Ellie Doering / Gavel Media

Newton School District Strike Comes to an End

On Feb. 2, the teachers’ strike that closed Newton Public Schools for eleven school days ended as the Newton Teachers Association and the district ratified a new four-year contract. The week-and-a-half-long strike was illegal under Massachusetts state law and resulted in over $600,000 in court-ordered fines against the union.

According to NBC10 Boston, the strike was the result of a dispute between the union and the district over contracts that had been ongoing since October 2022. 98% of the union members voted to begin the strike on Thursday, January 18, according to union president Mike Zilles.

School consequently was canceled for the district from Friday the 19th onward until Friday, Feb. 2, when the agreement was reached. The larger Massachusetts Teachers Association union was also in support of the strike.

Only 13 states in the nation allow public (government-owned) enterprises to strike, Massachusetts not being one of them. The laws have not stopped other districts in the state from striking previously, though the most hefty fine incurred by a strike before this one was $110,000 for the Haverhill union after a 2022 strike. 

The Newton union will likely have to pay back the fine in full, but individual teachers will not bear the brunt of the cost in any way. As part of the as-yet-undisclosed back-to-work agreement, the union may have to pay additional fees to cover the costs incurred by the district during protests, such as police details during past protests and subsequent teacher overtime. The aforementioned Haverhill strike incurred an additional $200,000 in back-to-work fees.

Strikes are often started when salaries fail to keep pace with price inflation and costs of living. Employees in unionized industries, such as entertainment, many manufacturing fields, and teaching, work according to contracts defining pay, benefits, and work conditions that are usually amended after set periods of time to account for the listed factors. 

According to the Boston Globe, the union sought and obtained higher percentage-based salary increases for teachers who had stayed for more than four years. Various expansions of parental and family leave were also granted to teachers. The union attempted to restrict the scheduling and staffing powers of the district superintendent as a part of negotiations but failed.

Parents of Newton district students, including many Boston College faculty and staff, had to find alternate accommodations for their children as the weekday classes were not held. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 65% of Massachusetts households have two working parents, so many families either had to send children to relatives or friends’ houses or enroll younger children in temporary childcare services. 

Lital Asher-Dotan, a Newton parent, is filing a possible class-action lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court to receive damages for “profound harm to and loss sustained” by Newton students. Some parents compared the time spent out of school with the profound loss of education during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is being widely studied.

Due to lost class time from the strike, all planned vacation days in February for the district were eliminated and any future snow days will involve online classes. Additionally, seven days were added to the end of the year, with classes now ending on June 26.

In any given year, 50-100 Massachusetts schools renegotiate contracts. The Newton strike may have set a precedent for both teachers and administrators on how long unions are willing to strike for, and what kind of concessions are willing to be given.

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