No school for students in Woburn as teachers hit the picket lines, contract negotiations continue

WOBURN, Mass — Schools are closed Monday for students in Woburn as teachers are officially on strike.

More than eight hours of negotiations ended Sunday without a deal. Both sides went back to the bargaining table at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Monday morning, hundreds of teachers picketed outside the city’s 10 schools. Dozens of teachers held orange signs and cheered outside Woburn High School.

“We want your kids back in school, this is not what I want to be doing this morning,” said Belinda Smith, a Spanish teacher with the district for 14 years. “Hopefully we can get back as soon as possible.”

Among their demands, the Woburn Teachers Association said they want better pay, smaller class sizes and more gym time for students.

“We’re not trying to be millionaires, we’re just trying to make a livable wage so we can feed our families,” said WTA President Barbara Locke.

Speaking to Boston 25 News Monday morning, Locke slammed Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin after she said he walked away from the bargaining table Sunday night.

“We thought we could [reach an agreement] yesterday, there was no reason we couldn’t, the only reason we couldn’t and that we didn’t do that is because of Scott Galvin,” said Locke. “I’m going to put all of that on him. He left, not giving us a counter for our ESPs which we asked for. We begged to just get that done and it was dysfunctional from the beginning.”

Galvin said they typically negotiate paraprofessionals’ salaries separately.

“Out of the blue they thought we would negotiate with both groups at the same time, which we haven’t done over the past year,” Galvin said. “We understand it’s very difficult for paraprofessionals, their wages are low and it’s time to bring them up and we’ve talked about that, and we are more than willing to bring their wages up.”

Galvin said the district is offering teachers a more than 10% raise over three years, but the union wants a 14.75% raise. Galvin said that is an impossible proposal.

A spokesperson for the city told Boston 25 News offering anything more than a 10% raise to teachers would result in money being cut from student programs and resources.

Since teacher strikes are illegal in Massachusetts, Galvin said the district is filing an injunction in court Monday to order the teachers to go back to their classrooms. “Their illegal strike is not going to be used as a bargaining chip and they’re not going to use it to hijack negotiations,” Galvin said. “The kids are going to be inconvenienced, the parents are going to be inconvenienced, and for the teachers to say they have no other options, it’s outrageous.”

A city spokesperson said the two sides have met about 25 times in the past 18 months to try to sort out a contract.

“It is sad and we’re not celebrating this,” said Locke. “It’s something we had to do because we cannot continue to have our ESPs continue to be paid these types of wages.”

Locke said teachers are prepared to strike for as long as it takes, though she’s hopeful they will reach a contract agreement soon.

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

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