Students in Newton have no class this morning for the seventh day straight, with a standoff between teachers and the school district now entering its second full week. Teachers have been on the picket line calling for increased pay and more social workers in schools. They’re also racking up fines. Teacher strikes are illegal in the Commonwealth, and the union owes $375,000 in penalties. GBH News state politics reporter Katie Lannan joined Morning Edition co-host Jeremy Siegel to talk about the policy and politics at play. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Jeremy Siegel: So what exactly does state law say about teachers going on strike?
Katie Lannan: The state law is not specific to teachers. It covers all public employees. Public workers in Massachusetts, like in many other states, are forbidden from striking and also from encouraging a strike or a work stoppage or something like that. In many cases, we see that go to the State Labor Relations Board, and as we’re seeing in Newton, most often that translates to hefty fines — once we’ve seen that it’s been determined to be an illegal strike.
Siegel: So what is the point of having a law like this on the books? Is it to prevent situations like this where kids aren’t in school for days straight?
Lannan: Things like that, and also, think about public safety personnel and all the different kind of government services that you see at the state or local level, things that are really emergent. You know, you need a firefighter there when your house is on fire. You need a teacher in school, things like that, is the idea behind it. That’s one of the things we’re hearing now from lots of state officials, or have been hearing as teachers have struck in recent months, is that, you know, they want to keep kids in the classroom and make sure they’re learning, particularly after the upheaval of the COVID pandemic.
Siegel: There is an effort in the works to change the laws surrounding striking in Massachusetts. The MTA has filed a bill to change the law. Where does that bill stand?
Lannan: So this bill, which we see similar efforts pretty much every legislative session, it would allow strikes after six months of failed negotiation for teachers and many public employees. That bill had a hearing in the fall. We haven’t seen it emerge from the committee yet, although there is a reporting deadline coming up the first week in February. So that could be the first time we really see if lawmakers in the statehouse are willing to advance this bill further, or kind of quietly kill it like they have in previous legislative sessions.
Siegel: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about the prospects of something like this. Governor Maura Healey ran with the backing of the MTA, but since has said she does not support allowing teachers to strike. Where do you other top Democrats stand in the State House?
Lannan: Both House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka have said they don’t support giving teachers the right to strike. So when you combine those with the governor, that’s an uphill battle. The bill is backed by about two dozen more progressive Democrats in the state legislature. But we’ve also seen things like Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley coming out in support of the striking teachers in Newton. So it’s not a unanimous opinion, but it’s many of the powerbrokers in the State House, as you say, who aren’t necessarily on board with this idea.
Siegel: This is all happening at an interesting moment for unionizing and labor efforts. We’ve seen increasing strikes at places like Starbucks, increasing unionization there. We’ve also seen several teacher strikes around Massachusetts, around Boston recently. Newton is not the only community where teachers have ended up on the picket lines. What have been the outcomes in other districts that have seen something similar? Newton’s racking up fines. What have we seen elsewhere?
Lannan: So the first strike since 2007 took place in Dedham in 2019, the first teachers strike. The educators there felt the deal they got was ultimately worth fighting for. You know, along with the fines, you see consequences like the loss of class time, maybe some strife with the school committee. But you also see a lot of community support in some of these places. In Woburn, when teachers went on strike recently, they had a GoFundMe that raised over $55,000 towards those fines. So there’s those tangible and kind of community-based outcomes as well.
Siegel: That is GBH’s Katie Lannan reporting on the Newton teachers strike. Katie, thank you so much for your time this morning.
Lannan: Thank you.
Siegel: And we should note that teachers are still on strike. There is no deal after the school committee rejected a last-ditch proposal by the union last night. City leaders argued that it is unsustainable and could lead to citywide layoffs. You’re listening to GBH’s Morning Edition.
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