The author is a member of the Boston Teachers Union at Charlestown High School.
After working for more than 10 months without a contract, the Boston Teachers Union reached a tentative agreement with Boston Public Schools on July 14.
If ratified in September, 10,000 educators will get their demands for pay equity, raises, inclusion and a pilot program to address student homelessness. The victory follows the union’s recent defeat of the “receipt” or state takeover of Boston’s public schools. BTU secured this latest contract deal because of the strength of the union’s organization through its ability to engage members, parents and the community in the contract fight.
Teachers fight student homelessness
In a city plagued by gentrification, educators have used their contract battle to defend homeless students and families. The union won this historic language:
“The City of Boston and BPS are partners in a pilot program to house homeless families of 165 students in Boston schools with plans to expand it at the end of the pilot period to house families of up to 4,000 homeless students. We will work with pilot partners with the goal of eliminating homelessness for families of students in Boston schools within five years.
This was just one of the bargaining proposals for the common good that the union put on the table. The National Education Association defines bargaining for the common good as “a bargaining strategy where educators and their unions join with parents and other stakeholders to demand change that not only benefits educators, but also students and the community as a whole” .
The BTU originally proposed four common good demands. Some members hope that winning one opens the door to future victories.
Chelsea Ruscio told Liberation News: ‘The fact that we have won a housing justice proposal really expands the scope of what can be achieved through our union contract going forward. This is an important first step in continuing to win bigger and better things not just for teachers, but for the Boston community as a whole.
Pay equity, inclusive learning and holidays
In the face of inflation, educators secured a retroactive 3% increase for 2021 to 2022. Additional increases over the next two years will result in a cumulative increase of 9.5% by September 2023.
BTU has also made great strides in pay equity for its non-teaching members. “We have spoken more than ever about educators in marginalized, non-teaching bargaining units,” teacher Amy Gebo told Liberation News. “We have to keep fighting for them to be fully paid for all the work they do.”
Boston Public Schools is committed to rethinking special education and improving inclusive practices districtwide. Each school will have an inclusive education liaison, special staff training and create an inclusion planning team. The IPT will be made up of at least 50% BTU members and will have binding decision-making power.
June 16 and Indigenous Peoples Day were codified as statutory holidays in the contract. BTU also won penalty-free days off for Lunar New Year and Three Kings Day, holidays celebrated by Boston’s diverse communities.
Grassroots and community engagement
BTU’s initial contract package was developed through a democratic process. Rank and file members were elected to the bargaining committee to help determine contract priorities.
The BTU also held community listening sessions and conducted intentional outreach to community organizations to ensure that the needs of parents, students and the community were reflected in union demands.
Gebo participated as a “silent representative” during the negotiations. She told Liberation News, “This is the first year that we have done a kind of open negotiation. I learned how negotiations work and loved it. Any rank-and-file member could sign up to observe the negotiations as a silent representative, increasing the opportunities for members to engage in the contract fight.
“It was amazing to hear our elected staff at BTU advocate for us and to hear how our members truly understood what we are asking for, as they were involved in creating contract priorities,” Gebo said. “It paid off in the trading room. We had numbers and facts that destroyed the city’s case against our proposals. We were able to call on expert members on the subject under negotiation.
prepared BTUs summarized after each negotiation session to inform members. Contract action teams and building representatives were responsible in each school for informing and involving specific members in the contract campaign. As BTU ramped up its campaign in the spring, members participated in “Wear it Wednesday’s” where they came to work wearing t-shirts and stickers reflecting major contract demands every Wednesday.
BTU will be back for more
The tentative agreement demonstrates the importance of the collective power of educators when they unite with the community around issues that matter to them in the fight for a dignified public education. Since this is a two-year contract, BTU will be back at the bargaining table in the summer of 2023 with new demands from the city.
Gebo said additional priorities for the next contract will likely include further improvements to inclusive learning and a commitment to improving school buildings and facilities.
Ruscio is optimistic about the future. “Hopefully for our next contract, we will do an even better job of building solidarity with families and students and showing that we can fight and win things like no expulsions during the school year for BPS families. “