Newton Teachers Strike: BWC Supports Newton Teachers

An interview with Newton teacher and Boston Workers Circle member Arielle Miles.

BWC: Please introduce yourself — what is your connection to BWC and what is your role as a Newton teacher?

My name is Arielle Miles, I am a chemistry teacher at Newton North High School. This is my 11th year teaching there. My connection to BWC is through my spouse, the wonderful Andrew Cohen, who first told me about the community on our first date. Now we bring our three-year-old, Ezra, to Circle Playtime!

BWC: What is this campaign fighting for?

Our union is fighting for a fair contract for Newton Public School educators. We have been working without a contract since the beginning of this school year. Since last year, our negotiations team has been meeting with the School Committee’s negotiation team, without any progress. The main reason there hasn’t been progress has to do with the fact that the Mayor of Newton, RuthAnne Fuller, has decided what her budget is and it is simply not enough to fully fund the schools. The School Committee has been unwilling to advocate for more funds for the schools.

There are a few big things we are looking for in this new contract: 1) a social worker in every school building, 2) a living wage for our Unit C members (Unit C educators include behavior therapists, teacher’s aides, 1-on-1 support staff for high-needs students…) (Starting salaries for some Unit C positions is UNDER $30,000 per year) and 3) an increase in parental leave from 40 days to 60 days.

BWC: What got you excited about this campaign?

What got me fired up about this campaign is the unfairness of our situation, and how casual the people are who supposedly care about and are proud of the services we provide. They have not been bargaining in good faith for MONTHS! It’s insulting, really. On the bright side, I am fired up by the high level of solidarity within our union: 98% of our members voted to participate in the civil disobedience that is this strike. Morale on the picket line has been high. Perhaps the mayor believes she can wait us out. Not going to happen, Mayor Fuller.

BWC: What has been a particular highlight? What has been a particular challenge?

I would say the volume of support we’ve been receiving has been a huge highlight: cars and trucks honking as they drive by the picket line, people bringing us coffee, snacks and handwarmers, Newton residents opening their homes to us so we can have some tea and use the bathroom. Some don’t realize that we are at our places of work during our working hours, and that those buildings are locked – we cannot go inside to use the bathroom.

A particular challenge has been the unlevel communications playing field, by which I mean this: The mayor has the mail addresses of everyone in the town. With the click of one button, she sends out PR blasts full of misleading information. What channels do we have as the union to set the record straight? Mostly social media, and interviews with the press and sympathetic organizations like the Worker’s Circle! Shall I share an example of misleading information? The School Committee sends the NTA (Newton Teachers Association) a proposal on Saturday evening, and says to the media on Sunday evening that the NTA took 5 hours to get back to them. This is true. Why? Because instead of using strike-throughs and underlines on the document so changes in language could be tracked, the School Committee simply edited the document, without tracking changes. So the union’s negotiating team had to go through line by line and figure out what changes were in the SC’s new draft proposal. Wouldn’t you agree that people negotiating in good faith, even if their positions are very far apart, would have some shared etiquette on how to send proposals back and forth?

BWC: What is a misconception people may have about the strike?

One misconception that people might have about the strike is that teachers stay home. No, we are at school. We are not IN the classroom, we are outside of the building, all day, rain or shine. Another is that the mayor values public school educators – a big talking point of hers. She did not send her children to public school and she has chronically underfunded the schools for the past 6 years. Another misconception: the mayor thinks the community will take her side because what we are doing is illegal. She doesn’t understand that doing something that is against the law is not necessarily wrong, which is something I know BWC understands more than most!

BWC: How can BWC members support the strike?

If you live in Newton, please call the Mayor and politely ask that she fund the schools so the teachers she is so proud of can have a fair contract. If you drive by us, honk your horn!!! If you want to drop off snacks, awesome! We are at our schools from the beginning of the school day, and then we all meet at a central location for a rally and press conference at 1 pm. The past two days they have been at Newton City Hall, tomorrow’s may be at the Ed Center (100 Walnut Street). Stay up to date if you like the nitty gritty details: https://www.newteach.org/blog. You can also make a donation on the same site – Starting today, we are being ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines, for every day we are out of the classroom. Make a sign and come to the big rallies at 1 pm! Chant with us, dance with us, protest with us!

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