Official Publication of the Massachusetts Teachers Association
Conference on union skills draws hundreds
By Jean Conley
A lmost 400 education activists converged on Springfield in early January for the 2020 MTA Union Skills Winter Conference, an
event focused on core priorities such as negotiations,
employee rights and member organizing.
Participants could hardly find a place to squeeze
in for several workshops, including one on wage
scales for Education Support Professionals and one
on racial justice.
Other sessions during the conference, which was
held on Jan. 11 at the Sheraton Springfield Monarch
Place Hotel, focused on the Fund Our Future
campaign. Some participants attended a workshop
titled “Cherishing Public Higher Education in
Massachusetts,” while others devoted their time
to a multisession boot camp designed to provide
members of local associations with a working
knowledge of municipal finance before Student
Opportunity Act funding begins flowing to districts
across the state.
The MTA All Presidents’ Meeting was held
concurrently with the first block of the conference,
allowing local association leaders to attend most
of the day’s sessions. Some who attended the MTA
Higher Education Conference, held at the hotel the
day before, stayed through the Union Skills event.
Locals were encouraged to bring groups of
members to participate in workshops based on their
roles and interests, and a number did so.
Sandwich Education Association President
Chelsea Craig said she and other members of her local
attended as a team “to add new skills to our toolbox.”
While Craig attended leadership-based sessions
to hear from fellow association presidents, other
Sandwich members went to communications and
technology-based workshops to learn how to best
connect with members. “We all chose different
sessions that spoke to our needs,” Craig said.
SEA member Carly Smith selected a session on
contract action teams.
“Being able to tap into how other locals
organize made me feel that this was something I
At lunch, MTA President Merrie Najimy cut a
cake to celebrate passage of the Student Opportunity
Act, which will bring additional Chapter 70 education
funding to districts over the next seven years. The
measure was signed into law in November.
At last year’s Union Skills Conference, Najimy
noted, members expressed their solidarity with
striking Los Angeles educators. By October of 2019,
she said, striking Dedham educators were making
their own national headlines.
“Then, with our coalition allies, we won the
biggest infusion of money ever — $2 billion — for
public schools in Massachusetts,” Najimy said. “We
are riding that wave right now, and you are doing
exciting work in your locals.”
MTA Vice President Max Page told the crowd
that the Student Opportunity Act was a victory not
just for students and educators, but one that has
“ricocheted around the country, inspiring others.”
Yet there is still work to be done to win passage
of the Cherish Act, he said. The legislation would
end a long downward spiral in state funding for
public higher education, help reduce the amount of
debt now placed on students and their families, and
address the need to stop the exploitation of adjunct
faculty and professional staff.
Page introduced UMass Lowell professors
Phitsamay Uy and Sharon Subreenduth, who arrived
at the conference with 25 South African educators on
a two-week Teaching English to Speakers of Other
Languages exchange trip.
Uy, a member of the Massachusetts Society of
Professors Lowell, said the group was studying the
use of educators’ unions as vehicles for empowerment,
advocacy and professional development. “Unions
played a significant role in South Africa’s liberation
struggle,” added Subreenduth.
During the lunch break, Dedham Education
Association negotiating team members received a
warm reception from fellow educators as they spoke
about the local’s strike for a fair contract.
DEA President Tim Dwyer said the solidarity
shown by fellow educators and other union members
around the state was “enormously gratifying.”
Negotiating team member Rachel Dudley said
the members’ decision to dig in on issues that truly
matter to educators, such as the inclusion of sexual
harassment language in the contract, added to the
union’s power. “We said, ‘No, we’re not going to let
these issues go,’” Dudley told the crowd. In the end,
she said, not only was sexual harassment language
included in the contract, but training was extended
“to everyone — from the administrative team all the
Above left, a group from Sandwich attended the conference as a team. Above right, members of
a South African delegation sat with MTA educators as they chose their workshop sessions.
Photos by Sarah Nathan and Bob Duffy