Brookline Educators Union begins contract negotiations



The Brookline Educators Union gathers to discuss the terms of their upcoming contract renewal. To advocate for their interests, the BEU uses the collective bargaining technique.

Cassidy Washburn, Regulars Managing Editor

Twelve-hour work days, unfair firing of teachers and unpaid professional development days: thanks to the Brookline Educators Union (BEU), educators don’t have to worry about these.

The BEU fights for the best interests of Brookline educators. These include fair pay, free blocks for class preparation and protection from being scheduled to work during lunches, all of which are designed to protect teachers’ work and life balance. The current contract will expire on Aug. 31, 2019, and negotiations between the school committee and BEU negotiations team have just begun.

Eric Schiff, guidance counselor and Negotiations Chair for the BEU, said that the BEU protects the rights of educators who may be treated unfairly.

“Once you are here and established, in terms of protecting your rights, the most effective way to do that as a collective,” Schiff said. “It’s more powerful than an individual.”

Jessica Wender-Shubow, president of the BEU, said one of the union’s overarching goals is to make education the best it can be for both students and educators. She believes that contract negotiations are one of the ways that the BEU can fight for the best conditions for Brookline schools.

“What we are saying is that we want a voice,” Wender-Shubow said. “You can see that it resonates with community discussions. We want a voice to say, ‘What should education be? what are schools for?’”

When the contract that regulates the working conditions for Brookline educators expires, which generally happens every three years, the BEU negotiation committee and the school committee come together to renegotiate aspects of the contract.

According to Wender-Shubow, this year, the BEU is requesting improved scheduling for teachers, better working conditions for paraprofessionals and open bargaining, a system that allows the public to be present during negotiations.

The BEU feels that teachers are often being asked to do too much in a short period of time. Many are asked to participate in committees, run extra-curricular activities, meet with students and attend meetings, in addition to planning and leading lessons. The BEU wants to ensure that teachers do not feel over-scheduled and have a balance between their work and personal life.

According to Wender-Shubow, many Brookline educators are upset with paraprofessionals’ working conditions and will try to use collective bargaining to fight for improvements.

The team is also conducting public forums, which allow the public to share their opinions on things that they believe need to change with Brookline Public Schools. New this year, this process will allow the negotiation committee to accurately represent the needs of the community.

According to Wender-Shubow, open bargaining would create an atmosphere of transparency, something that was not always possible during the last negotiations.

“We want it to be a community experience this time,” Wender-Shubow said. “No secrets, no back-room discussions. We want there to be a realistic demand on students and educators so that what people do can be done well.”

According to Schiff, the BEU hopes the open bargaining technique and public forums will speed up the negotiations process.

“Our last negotiation took over three years,” Schiff said. “We’re hoping to avoid that. The purpose of doing the forum with parents and teachers is so we really feel like our proposals have been vetted by the community.”

Though math teacher Grace Wang is not directly involved in the negotiations process, she trusts the BEU and knows that they are there to support her.

“They are aware of a lot of things that I might not be aware of,” Wang said. “I know that if there is a problem, I can always turn to them. For instance, when I was pregnant and had no idea what the procedure was, they laid it out for me and helped to ensure that my job security would still be there.”

English teacher Jennifer Rose-Wood also feels more comfortable expressing her opinions knowing that the BEU has her back.

“Feeling supported asking critical questions or even taking a stand against something like standardized testing is something that the Union has empowered me to do,” Rose-Wood said.  

For Wender-Shubow, the BEU is about not only adjusting teachers’ schedules and raising pay, but also giving Brookline educators power.

“It’s a social justice movement to me,” Wender-Shubow said. “Because people should have dignity. If you are powerless, you have no dignity.”