On  March 20 over 600 teachers, paraprofessionals, students, parents, and community members gathered in front of the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building — home to the central office of Boston Public Schools — to demand a fair contract for the Boston Teachers Union. The BTU has been working without a contract since August 2018.

BTU rank-and-file members and volunteers asked attendees to sign the union’s community support petition as they arrived and distributed signs, stickers and noisemakers throughout the crowd. Before speakers addressed the demonstration, participants marched around the Bolling Building chanting “What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now!” and “Water we can drink is not too much to ask!” — referring to the alarmingly high levels of lead found in several Boston schools’ drinking water.

“We are rallying here today because the BTU is all in for our students, our schools and our community. We are all in for the teaching and learning conditions our students deserve.” BTU President Jessica Tang asserted, “After close to a year of negotiations, we are coming together to reaffirm our solidarity and commitment to the priorities we’ve been fighting for…This fight is not just about our contract. It’s about about funding for our schools…We must continue to fight for social, economic and racial justice where all races, religions and identities are respected. Where affordable housing is a reality. Where everyone has access to quality healthcare. Where the justice system actually results in justice!”

“Do you realize we are the only school district in Massachusetts that does not have a full time nurse in every school?” BPS student and youth organizer Cathleen Alvarez asked the crowd. “A child with an asthma attack should not be left unattended. A child who is depressed should not feel trapped. If you are focusing on the education of students we should be focusing on their health as well!”

Amrita Dani, a BPS teacher and BTU member told Liberation News, “We are fighting for inclusion done right, so that special education students are getting the supports they need to be successful in inclusion classrooms; a nurse in every school every day, more guidance counselors and social workers in school, more social-emotional supports for students, a pay raise for all commensurate with the pay raises received by other city unions this year, and a living wage for workers on the paraprofessional pay scale.”

Dani also put BTU’s struggle in the context of the nationwide teachers movement:

“The [BTU] is recognizing that in the age of the Janus decision, which essentially made all states ‘right to work’ states, it is more important than ever to turn to an organizing model of unionism, where an engaged, politically active membership is the key to continuing the fight for workers’ rights and — for teachers — the fight for public education itself in this country. Teachers unions across the country are essentially fighting against the privatization of schools and the dismantling of the public education system. While Boston teachers are relatively privileged in relation to teachers in, say, LA [Los Angeles], we still see our contract fight as part of this spectrum of actions.”

Inspired by the teacher insurgencies taking the country by storm, BTU members have made it clear they are unwilling to accept the city’s inadequate proposals. Although the struggle for a fair contract continues, last Wednesday’s demonstration shows when teachers, students, parents and community members unite, they are ready to fight for the contract Boston deserves.

Support the BTU by signing the Community Support Petition.