By Jean Conley
E mpowerment and union solidarity were the watchwords of the 2018 MTA Education Support Professionals Conference.
ESPs from across the state gathered April 6 and
7 at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth for the
annual event, now in its 19th year. The conference
featured opportunities for learning, union-building
and camaraderie, along with speeches and other
Workshops such as “Legal Rights of ESPs,”
“Best Contract Language,” “All In/BRAG” and
“Grievances 101” addressed the growing demand for
organizing and leadership skills.
Others — including “Helping Traumatized
Children Learn, Succeed and Avoid Substance
was announced during the ESP Conference. But this
year the ESP Committee decided to do things a bit
differently, surprising Meltsakos with the award at
her school on Feb. 28 during a ceremony at which
she was surrounded by students and community
At the conference, before Meltsakos was
honored for a second time, ESP Committee Chair
Leslie Marsland hit upon a key issue on the minds of
many participants as she welcomed the crowd. “I’m
sticking with the union,” Marsland said. “Are you?”
That became a common refrain throughout the
As a decision nears in the Janus v. AFSCME
U.S. Supreme Court case, Marsland said, organized
labor continues to come under assault “by people
with too much money and way too much time on
their hands who have nothing better to do than attack
public education and bust our unions.”
She added that while most people believe the
Janus case will be decided against unions, “likely
making public employees right-to-work-for-less
employees,” she is confident that collective action
will prevail. “I feel we can still rise victorious by
sticking with our unions,” she said.
ESP Conference participants ended their Friday session with an enthusiastic chant reflecting the
mood of the evening: “MTA ESPs are ALL IN. We are sticking with our union!”
Photos by Jean Conley
She asked all participants to go back to their
local associations after the conference and talk to at
least two co-workers, including agency fee payers.
“I want you to talk about the value of being an active
and empowered union member,” Marsland said.
MTA President Barbara Madeloni picked up on
Marsland’s remarks, noting that while waiting for
the Janus decision “can lead us to significant anxiety
about how our union is going to survive, in a crazy,
contradictory way it’s also breathtaking” to see the
solidarity of striking educators around the country
standing up and using their power.
“If you look at the faces of those educators, they
look so joyful and happy,” Madeloni said. “It’s an
amazing time to be a unionist.” Madeloni also urged
members to join other activists in the coming months
in fighting for a $15 minimum wage, the Fair Share
Amendment, and paid family and medical leave.
As he addressed the participants, MTA Vice
President Erik J. Champy began with a bit of
MTA history. Champy said, “In 1845, a group of
85 Massachusetts educators met at Brinley Hall
in Worcester to ensure that we would have an
association that promotes public education and
commits to all the principles we still hold dear
Champy emphasized the importance of ESPs to
our students, schools and communities and the MTA,
and he expressed the need for ESPs to earn better
pay and benefits for the work they do.
Meltsakos was introduced by Nancy Burke, the
2017 MTA ESP of the Year, who lauded Meltsakos’
“energetic spirit” as well as her commitment to her
local, the Andover Education Association, and her
special needs students.
Meltsakos acknowledged the crowd’s
enthusiastic applause, saying her career as an
educator began 18 years ago when she was working
as a family day care provider. As she dropped a few
of the children off at school one day, Meltsakos
said, the principal told her, “You’d be perfect in our
Graduates of the inaugural MTA ESP leadership
program held up signs that reflected how
completing the program has made them feel.
ESP Committee Chair Leslie
Marsland said that while most
people believe the Janus case
will be decided against unions,
“likely making public employees
she is confident that collective
action will prevail. “I feel we can
still rise victorious by sticking
with our unions,” she said.