By Scott McLennan
T he recent upheaval in state political circles generated by public employees outraged over a plan to drastically alter their health
care coverage served as a shining example of union
power at work.
Governor Charlie Baker’s Group Insurance
Commission was forced to backpedal on a decision
to take away insurance carriers from public
employees — including many active and retired
educators — and the reversal generated headlines for
But just as important as such big wins are the
countless daily victories that educators can chalk up
to having a well-organized union.
Building power for both the large challenges and
the ones that occur from day to day is the intent of
the MTA’s All In campaign.
One key goal of the effort, which is off to
a strong start across the state, is to get members
thinking about playing offense when it comes to
fighting for their vision of public education.
“Our union and others are under constant
assault because our opponents don’t want power in
the hands of the people doing the work,” said MTA
President Barbara Madeloni. “That means we need to
do far more than just play defense. We need to seize
the moment and act collectively and decisively to
Within months, the U.S. Supreme Court is
expected to rule against public-sector unions in a case
known as Janus v. AFSCME. The decision is viewed
as certain to make it illegal to collect fair-share fees
— also known as agency fees — from bargaining
unit members who choose not to join unions but
nonetheless benefit from the contracts negotiated on
The All In campaign is a way to get out ahead of
the attacks that will follow the decision. But that is
far from its only impact.
Across the state, MTA members are already
using All In tools and resources in struggles ranging
from the action against the GIC decision to contract
efforts, overrides and other crucial fights for schools,
colleges and communities. They are taking collective
action, holding one-to-one conversations, and
building strong communication systems within their
districts and on their campuses.
The power of collective bargaining agreements
cannot be overemphasized, noted Sara McNulty, a
fifth-grade teacher who serves as treasurer of the
Pembroke Teachers Association.
Prior to working in the Pembroke Public
Schools, McNulty taught at a charter school in
Boston for five years. She regularly saw unequal
treatment of her colleagues at the charter — and a
lack of any mechanism for educators to address their
concerns. A low point came when the superintendent
called a meeting where he displayed MCAS scores
and berated the teachers whose students did not meet
But because teachers only had “agreements”
for employment, as opposed to a contract, they were
afraid to speak out against such treatment. McNulty
said that before coming to Pembroke, she “had no
idea there was a difference.”
“Then I realized how much more of a voice
teachers could have in their work,” she said, citing
issues such as ensuring prep-time periods.
McNulty went on to take a leadership role in her
local, saying it is her way to have a “piece of power”
in determining not only what goes on in her school
but also in her country.
The power of a union is part of what drew Sue
Kim from the University of Alabama in Birmingham
to a professorship at UMass Lowell, where she is
now chair of the English Department and co-director
of the Center for Asian American Studies.
In Alabama, campus governance gave faculty no
“I was on the Faculty Senate, but without
collective bargaining, it was toothless,” Kim said.
Faculty could not challenge decisions about
curriculum changes made by administrators, who
would implement disruptive plans and then move on
to a different job. Educators also could not address
the poor wages they were receiving.
“The lowest dean was making five times what the
average associate professor was making,” Kim said.
After arriving, Kim became active in her local,
the Massachusetts Society of Professors Lowell.
With collective bargaining, faculty members have
been able to ensure that salary review and workload
monitoring are ongoing processes. And faculty
members have far more control over the curriculum.
“People don’t understand what a difference it
makes across the board to have a say in salaries,
benefits and policies,” Kim said. “Without a union,
there is no mechanism for addressing any concerns
in those areas.”
But members need to recognize that they power
the union — not the other way around.
Officials representing the Worcester Public
Schools learned that lesson when they tried to resist
offering a fair contract to the district’s instructional
“They went up against the wrong people,” said
Cindy Brownell, co-chair of the bargaining team
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MTA Field Representative Beth
Kaake, at left in the photo above,
stood with members of the EAW
Instructional Assistants Negotiating
Team. From left, they are Teresa
Kirdulis, Co-Chairs Cindy Brownell
and Chris Pescheta, Kathy Lucey,
Jackie Hackett, Saul Ramos, Theresa
LaPriore and Deborah Young. Team
member Lorraine Gibbs is not
pictured. UMass Lowell professor Sue
Kim, pictured at far left, says that
at her previous job in Alabama, the
faculty had no real power. Pembroke
Teachers Association Treasurer Sara
McNulty, immediate left, says she saw
unequal treatment of colleagues when
she worked at a charter school.