Boston Teachers Union Reaches Tentative Agreement

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By Henry De Groot

*7/15 – Article has been updated to clarify the rate of proposed pay increases.

Tentative Agreement Announced at AFT Convention

This morning, Boston Teachers Union (BTU) President Jessica Tang announced that the union had reached a tentative agreement with the City of Boston. BTU members have been working for 11 months without contract.

A tentative agreement (TA) is a proposed contract reached between an employer and a union’s negotiating team. Tang’s proposed contract will go before BTU members for a ratification vote. If ratified, the contract will be voted on by the Boston School Committee.

According to Tang, the agreement “makes strides toward establishing that inclusive and intentional approach that the frontline educators of the BTU have advocated for, along with taking other key steps to improve the conditions of our school buildings and to create more family-friendly work policies.”

Tang made the announcement at the 87th American Federation of Teachers (AFT) biennial convention, currently in progress at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

AFT president Randi Weingarten spoke in support of the proposed contract from the convention floor.

“I am proud and thrilled to have such an innovative and progressive agreement announced at the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers,” said Weingarten. “The theme of this year’s convention is ‘Reclaim our Future’ and this contract will help students, families, and educators do exactly that by taking huge steps forward to promote inclusion and create improved learning and working conditions throughout the Boston Public Schools.”

The contract comes during a period of crisis for the Boston Public Schools district. Only two weeks ago the district appointed a new superintendent after Superintendent Brenda Casselius resigned midway through the year. BPS also narrowly avoided being placed in state receivership by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), agreeing to a strict improvement plan that begins this month.

Proposed Contract Details

In a press release, BTU described the proposed contract as taking “major steps forward on key district inclusion policies and practices.”

“Specifically, the parties agreed to key overhauls in the district’s approach to special education in order to better meet student and family needs, including targeted reductions in class sizes and taking a collaborative approach to assessing the needs of students who have individualized education plans (IEPs) and/or who are English Learners. Restructuring inclusion policy in the schools has been a shared priority of Mayor Michelle Wu and the Boston Teachers Union.”

Additional contract details laid out in the press release include:

Academic Supports – BPS is committed to ensuring that all students have the needed academic support within the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework, in which problem-solving and decision making is data driven and practiced across all levels of the educational system in order to support students.

Staff Training – The district will make additional funding commitments toward professional development around inclusion policies and best practices, including training for school leaders, special and general education teachers, related service providers, school psychologists and specialized training for coordinators of special education.

Planning Time and Input for Educators – Teacher planning time and preparation is critical and BPS will ensure that all teachers have adequate time to develop lesson plans collaboratively. Together, BPS and BTU will ensure that decisions regarding IEPs are made through a team process consistent with state and federal law.

Inclusive Education Liaison – For school years 2022-2023 to 2026-2027, the parties will fund an Inclusive Education Liaison who will play a critical role in implementing the shared vision of an inclusive district.

Paid Parental Leave – Expanding the City of Boston’s family leave policy to all education staff, including some positions within BPS that were previously excluded.

Green New Deal – Provides greater transparency regarding facilities work orders in BPS buildings to improve classroom conditions.

Housing Support – The agreement includes a commitment by the City to provide key housing support to unhoused families including a related pilot program.

Compensation Improvements – The agreement includes wage increases of 2.5% each year over three years with an addendum that will ultimately yield an additional 2% in overall wages over the life of the three-year pact.

A Test For BTU, Boston Leadership

If ratified, the contract will be a significant victory for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s new administration, as well as Tang’s “BTU for All” leadership team. The close relationship between Mayor Wu and President Tang is exemplified in the BTU’s press release, which quotes heavily from Wu. Mayor Wu also spoke in favor of the agreement at the AFT convention this morning. 

But just hours after the announcement, some BTU members were already expressing their frustration with the contract. According to one informed source, concerns include the proposed concessions to the district on most of the union’s initial demands, as well as BTU leadership’s behavior during the negotiation process.

Some members are worried that the new contract’s language on crucial issues like inclusion policy and class size is too weak to protect educators from the kind of working conditions that have caused massive teacher burnout over the last two years. On top of that, rank-and-file educators were prevented from observing key parts of the final bargaining session yesterday, as union leadership pushed heavily to “get the contract done.” 

Whether or not these concerns will affect the outcome of the ratification vote remains to be seen. But inflation will likely play a role. In a Facebook post, Tang clarified that raises in the contract, when including the “inclusion differential” “makes it actually 3, 3.5, 3 with one year retro so it’s actually 9.5% compounded over the next two years.” (*We originally reported that the contract offers a 2.5 percent annual raise). But just yesterday a report by the Labor Department showed that consumer inflation reached an annualized rate of 9.1 percent, a four-decade high. Wage increases that do not keep up with inflation represent a cut in workers’ real incomes. 

If the ratification process does develop into a contested vote, it will be a significant test for President Tang’s five-year leadership. Tang was unavailable to comment on this story.

Both national teachers’ unions – the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association – have been host to some of the most developed “rank-and-file” opposition movements, backed by socialists and progressives. Several opposition movements have won control of important teachers unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union, United Teachers Los Angeles, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the largest union in the Commonwealth.

In the last few years, the Boston Teachers Union has largely avoided serious contests between union leadership and representatives of the national “rank-and-file” movement. But this tentative agreement could change that.

Henry De Groot is a member of Boston DSA and an editor of Working Mass.

Picture Credit: BTU Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/bostonteachersunion/posts/5505273146158917

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