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Teachers Union Strike in Mass. Amid Statewide Revenue Deficits

Amid statewide and local revenue deficits, Newton, Massachusetts educators found themselves caught between national labor tactics and the small struggling community they serve.  

Beginning on January 18, 2024, the NEA affiliated Newton Teachers Association (NTA) closed schools for eleven consecutive days while illegally striking over a new collective bargaining agreement that Newton’s elected officials claimed they could not afford.  

Nearly two weeks later, and close to a million dollars in fines incurred by the illegal strike, the NTA and the District finally agreed to a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment through fiscal year 2025, a 3.25 percent increase by 2026, and a .75 percent increase for 2027—a stepped total of 12.6 percent over four years.  

According to the NTA, the deal includes “the best parental leave benefits in the state,” with 10 additional paid days by the district. According to Newton officials, however, the deal cost their residents an additional $53 million more than budgeted. 

In March of 2023, Newton residents voted 53-47 against additional tax increases proposed to cover increased spending. Without the additional tax revenues to fund the union’s demands, Newton city Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, said during negotiations that the city would need to layoff teachers and other city employees, such as police and firefighters, to meet the bargaining demands.  

Our community weighed in on additional funding for schools on the override vote in March 2023. Newton voted 53% to 47% not to increase our taxes. The union strike does not change that reality. We must live within our current revenues, the mayor said. 

Similar to the superintendent, I cannot afford to endorse a union contract that makes cuts to our current level of school/city services or to our current school/city employees to fund it, Fuller said. 

Fuller also claimed that the union’s negotiations were disappointing and undermined the good faith bargaining process required by law.   

The union is striking illegally and holding our kids’ class time as a bargaining chip. I think they hope that by making this negotiation personal and inflicting a lot of pain on our children, parents/caregivers, and elected officials, the school committee and/or the city will bend and cut services, programs or employees from within NPS or other city departments. In effect, the NTA (and the MTA) are bringing hard ball national politics to Newton. They are using a ‘take it or leave it’ approach at the bargaining table. That is disappointing and undermines the good faith bargaining process required by law, Fuller said. 

However, NTA President Michael Zilles, said Fuller was lying to the public.  

“They’re saying they can’t afford the $15 million difference between our proposal and their proposal? Bologna. Bologna. It’s misinformation. She’s lying to the public,” Michael Zilles said of Mayor Fuller. 

As tensions reached a boiling point, Newton parents filed court motions last Monday, and another by last Tuesday afternoon—days seven and eight of the strike. The initial motion, filed by Lital Asher-Dotan, asked a judge to compel the Teachers Association to end the strike, arguing it had taken a toll on her children.  

“I just decided enough is enough,” said Lital Asher-Dotan who filed the motion. 

By the following afternoon (day eight), two new parents had filed a motion, demanding the court impose steeper penalties. Allison Goldberg and her husband filed a motion to intervene, asking the court for increased economic sanctions and/or the arrest of Michael Zilles.  

“I call upon you, Judge [Christopher] Barry-Smith, to uphold the law as your position states and raise the fines against the union for their illegal actions, and/or the arrest of Michael Zilles for criminal contempt of court,” Goldberg said during a press conference. 

Adding, “I don’t think there is one parent out here that doesn’t want the best for our schools and our students, but our children are not pawns in this game of chess.”  

By the ninth day, NEA President Becky Pringle, whose salary is $495,787 per year – about 8.5 times that of the average teacher – flew into Newton, arriving early that morning, to rally teachers.  

“What they can’t afford is to lose the highly qualified educators who are in this district,” Pringle told rally-goers, in response to city officials’ repeated claims that the district couldn’t afford to meet the NTA’s demands. 

The NEA’s president ended the rally by repeatedly asking the crowd what they would do to achieve the NTA’s goals, starting a call and response where the crowd answered “whatever it takes” to every question. 

This is not the first time that the NEA has involved itself in Massachusetts’ local issues. 

As previously reported by AFFT, the union spent $4 million to pass the Massachusetts “Fair Share” amendment in 2022. Rather than a $2 billion windfall the union promised voters, the state has experienced the largest net outmigration of wealth in over 30 years. 

A report from the Department of Revenue, sent to the legislature in January, shows the Commonwealth’s finances have stumbled hard with no signs of easing.  

According to the Pioneer Institute, the single largest factor impacting budget deficits is the unprecedented growth of the state budget since FY 2021. Coupled with increased taxes, the state has earned the moniker “Taxachusetts,” while ranking fourth in the nation for net wealth outmigration—behind California, New York, and Illinois.  

The strike in Newton is just one of a string of teacher strikes across Massachusetts over the last 20 months. Now, the MTA is working to make striking legal in the state. 

As the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and each of its towns continue to face economic uncertainty, many are left questioning what the Newton strike means for the future. On either side of the picket line, however, parents and teachers alike say it will take time to heal the rift that’s been created within the community.