News from AFT Massachusetts and President Beth Kontos - February 2021

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A Message from President Beth Kontos

February is the shortest month yet it feels like the longest as we continue to fight for safe working conditions, an equitable rollout of vaccines, and a true living wage for all our members.  See the story here about the actions our New Bedford Paraprofessionals have taken as they advocate for a fair salary increase. We will see more like this across the state in months to come.

A job action was averted at the Greater Lawrence Technical School, AFT MA Local 1707 this weekend! A tentative agreement that would have ensured safety standards for all was rejected by the school committee Friday night. But the members stood strong together and demanded that they get back to the table – or else. See the statement of their President Chris Burke here.  Thanks to all the AFT MA staff who worked all weekend to support this local but especially Field Rep Eric Blanchet who refused to leave the table until there was an agreement. By 9pm Sunday both sides had voted to accept the new agreement. Should a press release link go here?

Vaccines are currently available to all people age 65+ AND people any age with two co-morbidities (see the list of eligible conditions here). It has been difficult to obtain an appointment as the state is receiving only 130,000 vaccines a week with more than a million people in these two categories. To find an appointment go to https://vaxfinder.mass.gov/.  All school nurses, OT, PT, Speech and Language Pathologists, and ABA staff are also currently eligible for the vaccine and may make appointments immediately.

AFT MA is advocating for all school-based employees to get the vaccine ASAP with the “Last Mile” vaccine program we’ve developed with our fellow teachers and fire fighters unions. Read all about the program here. Take action to pressure Governor Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders to release the vaccines to our program so that we can bring the vaccines directly to our schools.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has extended the validity period of the emergency Educators license through June 30, 2022 (originally valid until June 30, 2021) due to continued challenges as a result of the ongoing impact of the coronavirus.  Full details can be found here.

After months of our advocacy for in-school surveillance testing, the state’s pooled testing program has launched in many districts across the state.  For more details on the program go here.

New CDC guidelines have been released and affirms the safety guidelines we have been advocating for.  1) Social distancing, 2) mask wearing, 3) hand hygiene, 4) improved ventilation, 5) vaccine prioritization for school based staff, and 6) society-wide efforts to reduce community transmission.

Register here for the Share My Lesson virtual conference being held March 23rd to 25th.  If you cannot attend at the scheduled time they will send you a link for “On Demand” access at your convenience.  

Watch the video of our discussion of the book ‘A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door’: Winning the Fight to Preserve Public Education.

Tell the Baker Administration to Approve a Plan to Vaccinate Massachusetts School Staff and Librarians

 
While we know that vaccination will not solve all of the health concerns associated with COVID-19, we know that we can do more to keep school employees, their students and the people in their communities safer. With each day, there is more and more support for vaccinating educators.
 
We need all hands on deck – every available voice – to call on the Baker administration with these two simple demands:
  • Approve the Last Mile Vaccine Delivery Program so it can begin right away.
  • Make higher education employees and library workers eligible for vaccination in Phase 2 with preK-12 public school staff, integrating them into the Last Mile program and the program on their own campuses.

AFT Massachusetts Responds to DESE Reopening Push

Educators share the goal of safely returning as many students to physical classrooms as possible. The way we do that is by investing in the school safety measures we've been demanding for almost a year: rapid surveillance testing, ventilation upgrades to prevent transmission, and vaccinations for educators and for our students' vulnerable family members. In districts across Massachusetts, educators are working with parents and administrators to overcome the obstacles to safe school reopening, and we've successfully reopened many school buildings for the highest-need students with proper safety measures in place. Even amid this winter's high levels of COVID-19 transmission, more than half of Massachusetts educators are now teaching in the classroom.
 
But throughout the last year, our state government has prioritized indoor dining, casinos, and other venues that lead to high levels of community spread, rather than focusing on curtailing community transmission and reopening school safely with surveillance testing and ventilation upgrades. Amid the Baker administration's failed vaccine rollout, the state is the one obstacle standing in the way of the plan developed by the teachers and fire fighters unions to vaccinate educators in their local communities. READ MORE.

New Federal and State Money on Its Way to Massachusetts School Districts

Significant federal and state aid for schools may have already arrived in your school district—and more may be on the way, from both federal and state sources. This story, current as of early February 2021, provides a breakdown of what has already happened—and what to expect in the coming months.
 
As budget season moves forward, there are two key variables to keep a close eye on: what happens in Washington, D.C.; and what happens at the Massachusetts State House.
 
At the federal level, President Joe Biden is pushing for a third COVID relief package to the tune of $1.9 trillion. Preliminary reports suggest that any final package may contain additional aid for states, cities, and towns, and for schools. The national AFT will be watching developments closely, so stay tuned for more.
 
At the state level, all eyes will be on the Legislature as Gov. Baker’s budget proposal winds its way through the various budget committees in each chamber, culminating in a final vote around the start of summer (most likely). School-funding advocates will be seeking an accelerated timeline for the phase-in of the Student Opportunity Act, among other improvements to Baker’s budget proposal.   READ MORE.

2021 Paraprofessional and School Related Personnel Conference

If you’re a Massachusetts paraprofessional or school related personnel, you’ll want to join your colleagues from across the state at the AFT Massachusetts Boston Teachers Union Annual PSRP Conference on Saturday April 10th from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm!  
 
This year’s VIRTUAL conference will include a plenary emphasizing the important role you play in both your Union and community, as well as a series of workshops to support both you and your students during the pandemic.
 
Conference Agenda:
  • There is No Union Without You! From Union to Community: Why Your Voice Matters.
  • After the Vaccine: Going Forward in a Healthy Work Environment. Presented by MassCosh.
Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity for professional development and to build connections with other fellow paraprofessionals throughout the Commonwealth. Register here: http://bit.ly/2021PSRPCONFERENCE

Amesbury Awarded BCBS Wellness in the Workplace Grant

“My involvement with wellness programming started when the rising cost of insurance premiums made me think outside the box,” said Cindy Yetman. “I believe our partnership with the City of Amesbury and MIIA Blue Cross Blue Shield to offer health and wellness programming has allowed our health insurance premium rates to maintain some stability.”

“We have been able to offer better benefits for our city employees in our most recent renewals.” she said. “In the past we actually were able to decrease dental premium costs and add more robust coverage. I believe the benefits for our city and our employees has made this work worthwhile.”  READ MORE.

A Call for Nominations

Help the AFT Massachusetts celebrate the service of an educator, librarian, nurse, or school related-personnel whose leadership has made our union stronger. Nominations are now being accepted for our 2021 Distinguished Service Awards, which recognize substantial contributions made to the development of the union at the state and local levels, from membership building and leadership training to the advancement of political and professional issues important to the union.
 
Who will you nominate to be recognized at the AFT Massachusetts annual convention in May 2021? READ MORE.

Workshops for AFT Members

AFT Massachusetts will host a series of virtual benefits workshops in February 2020 to showcase the products and services available to AFT members through our member benefits program.

During the one-hour workshop, presenters will explain benefits you are eligible for, with topics including AFT Plus Benefits, Auto and Home Insurance; Supplemental Insurance; Home Financing; Long Term Care; and Retirement Planning. Whether you’re looking to purchase insurance, buy or refinance a home, plan for retirement, or just see what benefits are available to you as an AFT member, you can find experienced and dedicated professionals who will work with you every step of the way to fulfill your goals:
 
  • What:   Member Benefits Workshop for AFT members
  • Where: Virtual Workshops via Zoom
  • When:  February 23, 25, 27 and May 18, 20 and 22 (Tuesdays at 4pm, Thursdays at 6 pm and Saturdays at 10 am).
Click here to register! A link to the Zoom workshop will be emailed to registered participants a few days before the scheduled date.  Please contact Brant Duncan at bduncan@aftma.net for additional information.

Retirement Planning

The financial professionals of Teacher Retirement Solutions(TRS) have partnered with AFT Massachusetts.  They specialize in providing independent financial guidance, strategies and solutions to educators, administrators, and their families throughout New England.  One of the most utilized service they provide is helping members enroll in (or review their current) 403(b).  Included with this benefit is a complimentary consultation, it’s worth the call (or Zoom meeting).  
 
To assist AFT Members with their retirement planning, John Gregorio and George Bowen, both founding partners from TRS, have produced a series of retirement planning tools and articles to support members in meeting their retirement goals.
 
Members have enjoyed the valuable and educational material like the 10 Reasons to Save for Retirement article and an interactive Budget Planner.  The Budget Planner is a simple yet effective tool to help set realistic savings goals that fit within your budget.