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Teachers unions’ illegal strikes in Massachusetts test state law

Teachers in two Massachusetts school districts – Haverhill and Malden – went on strike on October 17 despite state law prohibiting public employee strikes. Massachusetts law specifically states:

No public employee or employee organization shall engage in a strike, and no public employee or employee organization shall induce, encourage or condone any strike, work stoppage, slowdown or withholding of services by such public employees.

Haverhill Education Association (HEA) vice president Barry Davis said, “Haverhill Public Schools teachers and the HEA have chosen to do what is moral over what is legal. Until a tentative agreement is reached,” Davis affirmed, “we will be on the picket lines.”

Haverhill’s strike also defied a temporary court injunction, which was granted to the Haverhill Public Schools and the state labor relations board.

A statement by the Haverhill school district noted that the strike would “create a burden for many of our parents, who may be forced to leave their children alone because they cannot afford to miss work.”

Malden Public Schools and the union reached a tentative agreement after one day of strikes. The Haverhill Education Association’s strike lasted a span of five total days, costing students four instructional days.

The Haverhill Education Association ultimately reached a $200,000 settlement agreement with the school district. Outside of the union’s pledge to establish a scholarship fund and reimburse the school district for “costs incurred” during the strike, it was not clear where the $200,000 settlement figure came from and where it will be directed.

Public unions in Massachusetts have not faced significant consequences from the state after several teachers strikes over the past three years, including the two most recent strikes. Unlawful strikes do not protect striking workers’ jobs under federal law, so union members who participate in an unlawful strike are at risk of losing their jobs.

Unlawful strikes may also incur severe financial penalties. Haverhill Education Association faces a $50,000 fine for the October strike and the Massachusetts Teachers Association a $250,000 fine. It has not been reported whether Malden Education Association will face any fines from the state.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.