More than 500 teachers in Woburn, Massachusetts, plan to go on strike Monday after a contract agreement was not reached this weekend, prompting the superintendent to announce that all schools will be closed for the day.
The city's teachers' association voted to go on strike Friday, but negotiations picked back up this weekend. There was a last-minute meeting Sunday between the teachers' union and the school committee, but the two sides failed to agree on a new contract after eight hours, bringing tensions to an all-time high.
"We could have gotten this contract settled tonight" said Barbara Locke, president of the teachers' association. "Unfortunately their reckless refusal to continue negotiations tonight means the planned strike will start Monday."
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The Woburn School Committee and Mayor Scott Galvin released their own statement Sunday night saying they had recommenced negotiations in an attempt to reach an agreement on a successor collective bargaining agreement, but they were unable to do so despite what they called a "productive" session, adding that they continue to believe their offer "is fair."
“Despite the ruling issued by the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board on Friday ordering the WTA to immediately cease and desist from engaging in or threatening to engage in a strike, the WTA has informed us of their plans to move forward with an illegal strike tomorrow, Jan. 30," the statement continued, noting that Woburn Public Schools families had been contacted.
With the Woburn Teachers' Association going on strike Monday, the district will be short more than 500 teachers -- something a spokesperson for the union had said would no doubt force school to be canceled for the day.
A phone call went out to parents Sunday night to announce that all classes had in fact been canceled Monday district-wide.
The superintendent said in his message that "despite a full day of negotiations, there was not an agreement with the Woburn Teachers' Association. As a result, the Woburn Teachers' Association will be out on an illegal strike tomorrow, and all Woburn schools will be closed to students tomorrow, Monday, Jan. 30. We have made arrangements so food can be picked up at each school between 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. tomorrow. I will keep you updated in a timely manner for planning purposes."
Union members made their way to City Hall on Sunday night to protest outside ahead of the mayor's 7:30 p.m. press conference. In a private interview, Galvin told media members that teachers were offered a 10% raise over the course of three years, but that the union counter-offered at 14.75% -- something Galvin said would have serious ramifications.
"It would have terrible consequences for the school budget, it would case funding problems going forward and it would be a bad deal for our taxpayers,” he added.
The mayor said if teachers do strike, he'll go to superior court and get an injunction.
“For the teachers to say they have no other options, it’s outrageous,” Galvin said.
Teachers in Woburn Public Schools have been working without a contract since last summer, with negotiations ongoing for more than a year now. They're asking for changes like smaller classes, wage increases and a cost-of-living adjustment, and that students go to gym twice a week.
When it comes to the strike, the mayor has called the plan illegal, disruptive and unnecessary.
There was angry chanting outside of Woburn City Hall on Sunday night as the mayor walked to his car.
The teachers' association says it is also calling for livable wages for paraprofessionals, arguing that the mayor and school committee have showed "a complete unwillingness to negotiate the paraprofessional contract or offer them a living wage,” according to Locke.
"We're not trying to be millionaires," Locke said. "We're just trying to make a livable wage so we can feed our families. And especially our ESP's. Such a darn shame."
Last Tuesday, the school committee filed a petition with the state to investigate since it is against the law in Massachusetts to do so.
A union representative told NBC10 Boston on Sunday that no one wanted this outcome.
“There’s no teacher that I know in our district that wants to be on strike right now," union secretary Eric Scarborough said. "We’d rather have a contract and be teaching our students in the classroom and be ready to go. We were pushed to an absolute limit here and we really feel like this was the last thing we could do in order to potentially get a fair contract.”
Scarborough added that teachers will likely begin to strike at 8 a.m. Monday. Contract negotiations are supposed to resume at 9:30 a.m. and continue throughout the day.