Wearing red T-shirts and chanting, “What do we want? A Contract! When do we want it? Now!” to the beat of a drum, nearly a hundred Brookline public teachers and their supporters held a rally Saturday, days after voting to strike beginning Monday if their demands for a new contract are not met.
Members of the Brookline Educators Union voted Thursday evening to authorize the strike should their bargaining team and the Brookline School Committee fail to reach an agreement this weekend. The BEU is seeking pay increases, better working conditions, and the hiring of more teachers from underrepresented groups.
The school committee is scheduled to meet Saturday evening to respond to the union’s demands.
“This is what democracy looks like. Democracy does not stop at the workplace door and a thousand BEU members said that this week, when they said they’re done with disrespect,” Jessica Wender-Shubow, BEU president, told the rally gathered outside Brookline Town Hall.
“They’re done with stalling. They are done with a school committee and select board that says they do not have to have fair learning conditions for the students of Brookline. It is time to change the tone and the approach in this town.”
The union said in a recent statement that Brookline educators have been working without a contract for nearly three years “that address fair and reasonable compensation as well as working conditions that meet the realities of a modern, comprehensive education.”
It’s also demanding more time each day for educators to prepare for students and collaborate with colleagues, as well as for the district to hire and retain more educators of color.
English teacher Julia Speyer, a member of BEU’s negotiating team, said the union’s vote to prepare to strike next week was meant to send a strong message.
“What your vote did — what this collective message said — was that the school committee’s tactics of putting poison pills and reducing bargaining to ‘You take what we offer or we’ll give you something worse’ is going to fail,” Speyer told the crowd.
As she spoke at the rally, Wender-Shubow held up a red placard that read “Brookline Educators On Strike” in white letters. The crowd responded with thunderous applause.
“We’re going to keep these at the ready today, tonight, and tomorrow,” Wender-Shubow said.
“We hope we don’t have to use the signs and never have to use them. But if we don’t use them this week, we’ll use them the next time we come up against this because we’re not going to be stalled anymore — spend two, three years of being told they don’t have enough time to meet and that they will not put working conditions into the contract.”
According to the school committee, it began negotiations over contracts for 2020-23 in the spring of 2021. The negotiations with teachers continued through last fall. In February, a mediator was assigned by the federal government to assist the process.
On the table is a school committee proposal for two consecutive three-year agreements for a 6 percent across-the-board salary increase over the period for Sept. 1, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2023, followed by an 8 percent increase from Sept. 1, 2023, to Aug. 31, 2026. The raises, said the committee, are in addition to contractual “steps” that provide automatic annual pay increases for most teachers.
In a statement Thursday, the school committee said it met in executive session for hours to discuss the BEU’s counteroffer demanding other changes that it received two days earlier.
“We are preparing a written counterproposal, which we will send to the BEU prior to the first of our two previously scheduled mediation sessions on the evenings of Saturday, May 14, and Monday, May 16,” according to the statement.
The last day of school in Brookline is scheduled for June 23.
Bob Miller, a science teacher and BEU vice president, said members of the school committee need to realize that it’s not the expensive school buildings they’ve built over years that make Brookline schools great, but the people in those buildings.
“It’s way past time for the school committee to listen to the people doing the work,” he said.
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