Teachers unions will face hefty fines if striking Haverhill educators fail to return to classroom

HAVERHILL, Mass. — Unions representing the teachers who are on strike in Haverhill will face hefty fines if the educators don’t return to the classroom on Thursday morning, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Essex County Superior Court Judge James Lang informed the Haverhill Education Association and the Massachusetts Teachers Association that they will each incur an initial $50,000 fine, in addition to fines of up to $10,000 a day, if the striking teachers don’t agree to ditch the picket line and return to their jobs. In addition, union leadership must publicly disavow the strike, according to the judge’s order.

Teachers strikes are illegal in Massachusetts.

“I hope this does what it’s intended to do, if not, we’ll see where it takes us,” Judge Lang said in court. “The whole purpose of my order here today is to coerce compliance, regardless of whether the negotiations have resulted in a tentative agreement.”

The judge’s order was scheduled to take effect at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Negotiations between the two sides were set to resume at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Lang also issued a cease-and-desist order, requiring union leadership to stop any action condoning or inducing the work stoppage. He previously stated that the strike is causing irreparable harm to the city’s 8,000 students.

School Committee Attorney Dave Connelly said after the Newburyport court hearing the sanctions are needed to end the strike.

“Obviously, there’s a financial impact. But there’s also a psychological impact. A court has ruled against the union’s actions here. And now they are enforcing some pain in their direction,” Connelly said.

At a noontime City Hall rally before the Newburyport court hearing, teachers enthusiastically supported the strike, even under the threat of sanctions.

“The right to strike is a fundamental right for labor,” HEA VP Barry Davis said. “It is unconstitutional that Massachusetts does not let its public servants strike. It’s the tool of working class people.”

Students in Haverhill Public Schools have not been in class since last week.

The HEA voted to strike Friday over issues of salary, class size, school safety and racial justice.

Teachers in Haverhill make about $10,000 less than the state average. The school district has offered teachers raises totaling $20 million over three years, but Scott Wood of the Haverhill School Committee said they are asking for more.

“Let me be clear about what that means if we give them exactly what they are asking for. That means massive layoffs throughout the district. That means user fees for students to play sports,” Wood explained.

Striking teachers in Malden returned to school Tuesday after reaching a deal on new contracts Monday night.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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