Why is the BEU striking?
May 16, 2022
The failure to reach an agreement and exhaustion amongst teachers from working without a contract have led the BEU to feel that striking is their last option, according to BEU President Jessica Wender-Shubow.
“This is a last resort. You only strike when you have tried everything else,” Wender-Shubow said. “We will have a strike tomorrow if there is no agreement tonight.”
Many BEU members, including Guidance Counselor Darby Neff-Verre, said they were unsatisfied with the BSC in negotiations meetings.
“I feel like people, particularly teachers, although also support staff, have gone way above and beyond over the last two years. It’s a disrespectful slap in the face that the BSC still refuses to negotiate [directly] with us. It’s just not okay,” Neff-Verre said.
Computer science and robotics teacher at the high school David Petty said the BSC has not been willing to negotiate directly with the BEU.
“We were hoping that the BSC would stop speaking through their lawyer and actually negotiate with the negotiations committee, but it was only through the threat of a strike that they even started talking with us,” Petty said.
Other educators were striking because the BSC has not fulfilled all their demands for a contract. According to math teacher at the high school Shoshanna Kostant, it is hard for educators to trust that the BSC will fulfill their promises.
“There is no trust that they are going to do what they say they’re going to do with respect to the other asks apart from the monetary ask,” Kostant said. “The fact that they’re just promising to look into something is not the same as an action. The trust that they would take that action has eroded a lot because they have been forced to negotiate and they said that the union walked away when they didn’t even want to meet.”
Spanish teacher at the high school Pedro Méndez emphasized the importance of the diversity clause in the BEU’s proposed contract.
“I want to see a change in Brookline Public Schools. I’ve been here 16 years and I can still count with my fingers how many people of color we see. I know that BHS and the district have done a lot of work, but it is not enough,” Méndez said. “Look at [the crowd] and count how many people of color are there. When you see our student population, you don’t see the same. You see a more diverse student body.”
English and African-American and Latino Scholars Program (AALSP) teacher at the high school Emma Siver said she is fighting for a fair contract to ensure that a diverse set of students can feel represented by their teachers.
“I’m a teacher of color. Representation matters for my kids,” Siver said. “We’re emotional mentors, we’re coaches, we’re people that these kids can come to. Without the right to a fair contract, we can’t do the job that these kids deserve.”
Literacy coach at the Lawrence School and Public Schools of Brookline (PSB) parent Dianne Muendel said she is disenchanted with Brookline.
“I’m very disappointed in my town,” Muendel said. “I thought I bought a house and sent my kids to school in a progressive community but progessive communities support workers, so I feel like people are that way in theory, but I know they aren’t in practice.”
Math teacher at the Lawrence School Katy McGraw said she is striking to improve the caliber of the school.
“I have been in Brookline Public Schools for 41 of my 52 years. I have watched Brookline schools be the best and I am watching them disintegrate and it makes me want to cry,” McGraw said. “I have a very big commitment to this school and to its quality, so I have to do everything I can.”
Science teacher at the high school Wen Sailer said her students remain a priority.
“I hope students understand that we are not doing this for us and that we care about our students. This is not easy. We are not doing this because it’s fun. We are not doing this because we don’t want to work. We just want to be empowered to do our jobs well so that we can be better teachers for our students,” Sailer said.
Méndez said he was initially worried that there would only be a small group of educators who would come to protest.
“I was concerned that nobody was going to show up or that they were going to be afraid. There is a lot of disinformation, a lot of fear, especially among new teachers, whether or not they were going to be fired. There was a lot of fear,” Méndez said.
Candidate for state representative Raul Fernandez said it is important for unions to self-advocate and that he adamantly supports the BEU’s fight.
“We are in this place right now where working people need to do everything they can to stand up for their rights because people aren’t thinking enough about them. The question shouldn’t be why am I standing out here with them. The question should be why aren’t more people standing out here with them,” Fernandez said.
According to chemistry teacher and BEU negotiator Julia Speyer, the outcome of the BEU’s strike will impact other labor disputes in other districts.
“I think [the School Committee’s] goal was to end the Union. This is an act, somewhat, of desperation, because they have been bargaining unfairly,” Speyer said. “But it’s bigger than Brookline because other school committees will do the same tactic. If it succeeds here, they will try it everywhere else. This is really for the future of public education, which is why I’m striking. It’s not about me; it’s not even about Brookline.”