M TA members across the state are learning that there is more to the adage about “power in numbers” than they thought.
There is also knowledge in numbers, and locals
are banding together by region to better understand
— and address — common concerns.
In Western Massachusetts, locals have worked
in concert to successfully fight a charter school
expansion that would have affected more than 30
communities. Locals in Southeastern Massachusetts
have acted collectively to protect access to health
care. And members of locals in North Shore
communities are now regularly attending each
other’s standouts and other actions.
Charters, health care and contract bargaining are
topics bearing down on every public school educator,
but over the past couple of years MTA locals have
been much more likely to work in coalitions to
address such issues together.
The Berkshire Educators Action Network —
known as BEAN — formed several years ago when
educators grew frustrated with a growing number
of bureaucratic mandates and a rising emphasis
on high-stakes testing. The two issues were eating
away at teacher autonomy and valuable time for
Since then, the Western Mass Educator Action
Network — known as WeMEAN — has formed
in Greater Springfield, and locals in Southeastern
Massachusetts communities have created the
Southeast Massachusetts Education Action
Network, or SoMEAN. MTA and AFT locals north
of Boston have formed the Merrimack Valley Labor
“The support we give each other allows us to
understand the bigger picture we all face,” said Scott
Beaulieu, president of the South Hadley Education
Association and a WeMEAN activist.
WeMEAN’s growth exemplifies the value of
coalition building. Almost two years ago, Mary
Cowhey, a Northampton teacher who was serving
on the MTA Board of Directors, began encouraging
colleagues in different locals within the area she
represented to get together. At about the same time,
MTA members participating in a summer member
organizing program were hearing similar stories
and concerns from educators across a range of
I n Holyoke, the organizers were learning that members were afraid to speak out, given that the district was being run by a state-appointed
receiver with expanded authority to discipline or
But as members of a coalition, said WeMEAN
member Sadie Cora, president of the Northampton
Association of School Employees and a Holyoke
resident, educators had more power to fight for their
colleagues. “We could go there and speak out for
them,” she said.
The enthusiasm for a coalition truly blossomed
in the fall of 2018, when the Chicopee Education
Association organized a rally in favor of the Promise
Act, the precursor to the recently signed Student
Opportunity Act. Scores of educators showed up
wearing T-shirts bearing logos from surrounding
“We surprised ourselves,” said WeMEAN
member Stephanie Joyce, a member of the Amherst-Pelham Education Association.
The WeMEAN coalition now regularly sees
members from roughly 15 locals at its meetings,
and it is taking on projects such as analyzing
participating locals’ contracts and forming a
group to study issues raised by Education Support
“These coalitions are breaking the isolation,
building new relationships and amplifying the voice
and power of our members and their community
allies,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy.
“Whether confronting hostile employers, fighting
for fair contracts or organizing opposition to charter
Members of regional coalitions met at the MTA’s recent Union Skills Winter Conference.
Representing SoMEAN and WeMEAN are, from left, Tasha Cordero, Bristol-Plymouth; Stephanie
Joyce, Amherst-Pelham; Jack Bartholet and Christopher Garcia, New Bedford; Laura Demakis,
Chicopee; Scott Beaulieu, South Hadley; Sadie Cora, Northampton; and Donna Grady, Franklin.
Locals across the state are banding together to tackle common issues and support each other.
Photo by Chris Christo
longer business as usual. Not only are we building
power, but we are demanding — and earning
Tasha Cordero, president of the Bristol-Plymouth
Teachers Association, said the power of the SoMEAN
coalition was felt when her union confronted its
School Committee over unsafe conditions at Bristol-
Plymouth Regional Technical School.
“When others are so strongly supporting you,
it provides validation for what you feel, and it made
me feel confident in what we were doing,” Cordero
Organizing members to attend actions across a
coalition’s footprint now occurs with regularity.
Anthony Parolisi, president of the Haverhill
Education Association, recalled strong showings
by other locals when the HEA held demonstrations
during its most recent contract fight, as well as when
members showed up to support Andover educators
confronting the administration about mistreatment of
T he coalition actions are not just shows of strength, Parolisi said. They are ways for locals — not just among those in the
coalition — to learn strategies from one another.
Parolisi said the Merrimack Valley coalition
was inspired by actions in Somerville to win a fair
contract for ESPs. Those issues resonated across the
valley, he said.
“Just seeing what’s working is valuable,” he
said. “It creates an attitude of ‘If they can do it, we
can do it.’”
“When others are so strongly
supporting you, it provides
validation for what you feel,
and it made me feel confident
in what we were doing,” said
SoMEAN member Tasha Cordero.