Union forces Boston teachers to work without a contract as COVID-19 persists in public schools

Boston Latin School [Source: www.bls.org]

Boston Public Schools (BPS) teachers have now been working without a contract since the last one expired eight months ago, on August 31, 2021. According to the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), as of the most recent bargaining update on April 11, the school district has not responded to a majority of the BTU’s proposals or have made proposals that would increase educators’ workloads and lower the quality of education for students.

BPS has also canceled four of seven bargaining meetings in the first three months of 2022. According to the BTU, the BPS proposals presented on April 5 demand a number of concessions from teachers, including requiring them to “work 90 additional hours annually [more than two full-time workweeks] without compensation,” as well as removing “all limits on class size and instead making them ‘targets.’”

Even as the district plays hardball, the BTU is keeping teachers in classrooms. However, struggles are breaking out among educators across the country, raising the possibility of a united struggle for better wages and working conditions. On Friday, April 29, hundreds of teachers in the Oakland Unified School District in California took part in a one-day strike in opposition to planned school closures and mergers due to a major budget deficit in the district.

The eruption of struggles by educators is international. On Monday, April 25, more than 250,000 teachers in Sri Lanka, as part of a broad movement of the working class, took part in a one-day strike demanding the resignation of President Gotabhaya Rajapakse, and for relief from transport difficulties facing teachers and students due to acute fuel shortages and soaring prices.

The unions nationwide are determined to isolate struggles of teachers in each district from each other. In early April, the teachers union in Sacramento shut down an eight-day strike of teachers, with a tentative agreement including pay raises far below the rate of inflation, and before teachers had even had a chance to vote on the contract. In March, 5,000 educators in Minneapolis, Minnesota, carried out an 18-day strike against school austerity and deplorable teachers’ conditions before the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers shut it down and forced through a rotten contract. 

Boston teachers and students have been forced into schools while waves of COVID-19 cases reached record numbers, with the 7-day average reaching over 20,000 cases per day in Massachusetts from the Omicron BA.1 wave. More than 1.5 million cases of the virus have been reported in the state and the virus has killed more than 19,000 people since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Cases of the dangerous BA.2 variant are continuing to rise in the Northeast, with Massachusetts registering 3,341 positive cases, with a 5.04 percent positivity rate. From April 7 to 27, a period which included a holiday break, 1.12 percent of all students and 2.64 percent of all school staff (2,339) in Massachusetts tested positive for COVID-19. This is about 61 percent more than that reported April 14, according to data published by the state.

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