‘Extremely frustrating and demeaning’: Brookline teachers, threatening strike, rally for new contract

On Saturday the district’s teachers, along with union members from other teachers’ unions in the area, were out in full force, chanting and carrying signs that read “pay school employees better” and “you can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”

Jessica Wender-Shubow, the union’s president, said Thursday’s vote comes at a time when more is being asked of teachers than ever before, and financial and mental strains on educators are compounding.

“1,000 BEU members said this week that they’re done with the disrespect, they’re done with stalling, and they are done with a School Committee and a Select Board that says they do not have to have fair learning conditions for the students of Brookline,” said Wender-Shubow, holding a strike sign. “It is time to change the tone and the approach in this town.”

She said the union, which represents more than 1,000 educators, voted “overwhelmingly” to strike. Teachers are frustrated, she said, that the School Committee has rejected provisions that would benefit their wellbeing, like a daily 40-minute block of “duty-free” time for teachers to “gather their wits about them and catch up.”

Brookline teachers rallied in front of Brookline Town Hall Saturday as they prepare to go on strike if a contract accord is not reached over the weekend.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

“We are not going to waste our time sitting in these rooms with [the School Committee], getting nowhere, spinning our wheels if they aren’t going to take our proposals seriously,” said Wender-Shubow. “We’re done with it. We have an obligation to our members to use strategies that are going to work. None of us want to strike, but if it’s what we have to do we’re ready to do it.”

If an agreement is not reached in a round of negotiations slated for Saturday night, teachers would begin striking on Monday. The district serves roughly 7,000 students.

Superintendent Linus Guillory did not respond to a request for comment Saturday but said in a statement Friday that he was “hopeful that the parties will reach an agreement before [Monday].”

Guillory warned families last week of possible operational disruptions should the strike proceed and said such action by the districts’ educators would cause harm to students.

“Strikes by public employees, including educators, are illegal in Massachusetts, and more importantly these types of actions disrupt, interrupt, and harm the one purpose that we are all called to do: educate children,” a message sent to families on Wednesday read .

Saturday’s rally comes as teachers’ unions across the state are negotiating for new contracts amid the financial havoc wreaked by the pandemic.

Union members from school districts in Boston, Cambridge, Arlington, Newton, and Watertown were in attendance Saturday and State Senator Diana DiZoglio, along with several other politicians and candidates for office in Massachusetts, addressed the crowd and signaled support for the union.

Among the attendees was Karen Shashoua, a second-grade teacher at Heath Elementary School who has worked in the district for 13 years and said she would strike on Monday if an agreement isn’t reached.

“I don’t expect the town to give everything that the teachers are asking for, but it feels like we end up in this situation, negotiating for fair wages and conditions, every few years,” said Shashoua. “It’s extremely frustrating and demeaning to teachers. What we’re fighting for in this contract will impact students. And we know they will make a difference in the students’ lives and in the education they receive.”

Material from prior Globe reports was used in this report.


Andrew Brinker can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker.

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