O pen and transparent bargaining about the “big issues” that really matter to educators — such as respect, equity and time for
teaching and learning — helps build union power.
That framework, which was central to the
discussion at a recent MTA Collective Bargaining
Summit in Springfield, helped the 140 participants
rethink some of the approaches they have historically
taken toward negotiations.
A good deal of the focus was on three key
MTA President Barbara Madeloni welcomed the
members who attended the daylong summit on Oct.
3, saying the conversations that would be inspired
by it “remind us to keep the ‘collective’ in collective
Madeloni said that union activism often “starts
one to one, with individual conversations,” but
eventually becomes like weaving a piece of fabric.
“We have to start with individual relationships and
stitch that fabric together,” she said.
The summit was built around three workshops.
One addressed the nuts and bolts of increasing
membership participation. Another concerned
negotiating contracts that address members’ key
issues, and the third focused on building on one-to-one and small-group conversations to bring in fellow
members, parents and others in the community, then
writing a platform statement that highlights key issues.
Members of the Concord Teachers Association
kicked off the event, with CTA President Merrie
Najimy explaining that open bargaining goes well
beyond the usual mandatory subjects — wages,
working conditions and hours.
Open bargaining requires “engaging and
involving your rank and file and the community
— parents and allies — from the beginning of the
process,” Najimy said, and then developing an
“aspiration statement” or platform. The platform can
be broad, such as, “What are the kinds of schools
She said that tying specific contract proposals
to that platform is key, as well as “committing
yourself to an open and transparent process from
the beginning to the end, which includes promising
never to have a conversation with the other side
away from the negotiating table.”
CTA members recounted a series of crises
beginning five years ago — unilateral decision-
making by the district superintendent, an attempt to
privatize school bus transportation, and community
anger over an expensive high school building project.
In the end, they said, dealing with these pressures
helped revitalize the union because educators used
them to build relationships — both within the
membership and with parents and other allies.
Roseanne Swain, a veteran music teacher and a
member of the CTA negotiating team, said the crises
showed members that “the power is in the numbers.”
T he idea for the recent summit took root last February at another MTA bargaining summit hat brought in organizers from St. Paul,
Minnesota, Portland, Oregon, and Chicago.
The speakers talked about how a combination
of approaches — extensive community organizing,
forums providing ways for stakeholders to hear
educators’ concerns, and open discussion of issues
with people who might be unfamiliar with the role
of unions — creates the supportive relationships that
lead to effective bargaining.
Those ideas resonated with members of
the CTA, who decided to employ some of the
approaches they had learned at the February summit
as they opened bargaining on a new contract in
March. The local also brought up the idea of open
bargaining, which had not been tried before in
Concord. “Could we really do that here?” wondered
CTA Vice President Karin Baker.
Najimy and Phil Dowgiert of the Springfield
Education Association brought a new business item
to the MTA’s 2015 Annual Meeting directing the
statewide association to focus some of its training
and development resources on open and transparent
bargaining with an eye to training locals to bring big
issues to the table. The NBI was adopted.
John Peachey, co-chair of the bargaining team
and a 24-year veteran of the Concord Public Schools,
said that actively listening to the concerns of
members and residents has made a “huge difference”
in how the CTA engages with the community.
As bargaining has continued, members and other
stakeholders have been showing up at negotiating
sessions. The response, Peachey said, has been
amazing. “Members are actively engaged,” he said.
“The teachers are all coming out and making time for
Peachey noted that more than 80 teachers came
to the last bargaining session. “It was standing room
only,” he said. “The administrators who came had to
go find their own chairs.”
Lorie Kelly, a third-grade teacher and president
of the Lynnfield Teachers Association, attended
the summit with fellow bargaining team members
Linda DaCorta and Tamara Tate. Kelly said the trio
returned re-energized as they head into bargaining on
one of their contracts.
She said the team “hit some roadblocks” the
last time it bargained and wasn’t looking forward to
more. The summit, she added, “reminded us of the
important work of pre-bargaining,” including person-to-person contact, charting, and having intentional
professional conversations that help generate
proposals among the membership.
Phil Dowgiert of Springfield told summit participants that his local is building coalitions with
other stakeholders to “bring more community voices” into the bargaining process.
Photo by Jean Conley