Militant Journalism

Teachers unions in Cambridge and Brookline Mass., are still fighting for fair contracts

Teachers unions in both Cambridge and Brookline, Mass., have been working without a contract since 2021. The school boards of the two districts have refused to meet the demands of the Cambridge Educators Association and the Brookline Educators Union. The unions demanded improved learning conditions for students and raises that keep pace with inflation — the school boards responded with stonewalling and threats to impose harsh measures, such as extending the school day with no extra pay and eliminating class size limits.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a host of challenges on teachers and students, and for some teachers, cost them their jobs or lives. Yet, school boards in Cambridge, Brookline and across the country refuse to support their teachers, pressuring them to accept worse contracts and working conditions.

Cambridge Educators Association

Since the contract’s expiration in August of last year, Cambridge Public School District and the CEA have only met a handful of times and have not come to a new agreement.

Brookline Educators Union and allies rally for racial justice in 2020 amidst a struggle over the laying off of 300 Brookline teachers. Photo by Perri VanderClock. Used with permission.

Previously, the Cambridge educators had been working under a one-year contract that was signed in 2020 to avoid negotiations for a new three-year contract during the COVID crisis. 

The CEA’s three-year contract proposal includes many demands to improve learning conditions for students such as an antiracist curriculum, prioritizing the social-emotional well-being of children, hiring and retaining teachers of color, and giving competitive pay to keep up with inflation and attract prospective teachers. 

CPS has so far denied these demands across the board.

During negotiations on April 14, CPS offered a new proposal, which included items such as eliminating class size limits at all levels, a $200 one-time payment “in recognition of the continuing pandemic-related challenges,” and the option to reassign a teacher at any time without that teacher’s consent. None of the CEA’s demands were addressed.

Due to the law firm hired by CPS, the negotiations so far have been “behind closed doors,” but that hasn’t stopped the union from trying to bring the stalled negotiations to the public. 

Since they have been unable to reach an agreement both the Cambridge Educators Association and Cambridge Public School District decided to hire a neutral mediator to attend negotiations. 

Brookline Educators Union

The BEU has also been working without a contract since 2021. The union demanded that the Brookline School Committee commit to hiring more teachers of color, grant professional status to retain these workers, hire more staff, and for pay raises to keep up with inflation.

The two sides were in the process of narrowing down proposals in October of 2021. “So all of a sudden, their lawyer shows up by bargaining with a new package of proposals: to diminish union rights, take away the professional judgment of teachers and which staff meetings they can attend, and extend the elementary school day for no pay,” BEU president Jessica Wender-Shubow told Liberation News.

In the spring of 2020, the BSC laid off around 360 educators after mismanaging the budget. The uproar from the teachers and community pushed BSC to quickly backtrack and they rehired almost all the workers who had been laid off.

Many of the workers laid off were recently hired staff of color who had not received professional status. The BSC claims that hiring more staff of color is important to them, but a real commitment to racial justice would involve offering these teachers professional status — as the BEU demands. 

It is illegal for public employees to strike in Massachusetts. In order to escalate, the BEU implemented a work-to-rule policy in December 2021, meaning teachers won’t work after the school day is over. 

Wender-Shubow shared with Liberation News that the teachers have knocked on over a thousand doors asking members of the community to make their voices heard.

Currently, BEU and the BSC are in mediation.

The demands of the BEU and CEA teachers benefit both teachers and students, but their respective school boards have shut them down. As Wender-Shubow noted, education is being “run like a lean production machine.” But teachers and students are not machines. Public education is a public good — degrading it hurts the millions of ordinary people who rely on it to teach their children. 

Follow the Cambridge Educators Association on their website. To support the Brookline Educators Union, find updates on their website and sign their petition.

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