Amesbury Educators’ Political Engagement Leads to Contract Victory

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In a demonstration of the incredible power educators have when we engage in political activity at the local level, Amesbury educators recently helped elect a pro-schools Mayor and slate of School Committee candidates, and won a strong new contract, after a major political engagement effort this fall.

“AFT Amesbury members were very involved with the No on 2 campaign, but that was the first political activity for a lot of us. It made us realize the importance of remaining politically engaged in our profession,” said AFT Amesbury President Cindy Yetman. “We put in a lot of work into this fall’s political engagement campaign, but it was a lot of fun, and the feeling of success can’t be beat.”

Public Services = Public Good

In recent years, bargaining had stalled for or was not occurring at all for most unions in Amesbury, including AFT Amesbury Local #1033, which represents teachers, paraprofessionals, and technicians in the Amesbury Public Schools. As frustration mounted, municipal unions in Amesbury, including AFT Amesbury, engaged in a “Public Services = Public Good” campaign aimed at highlighting the contributions of public employees to the community, and working towards successful contract ratifications for each union.

“Over the past decade the population of Amesbury has increased by nearly 10 percent, but in the past six years municipal leadership has repeatedly slashed the budgets that fund public services in our city,”. “These budget cuts led to significant reductions in staffing and lack of funds for quality professional development, educational supplies, and adequate maintenance and upgrades to school facilities.”

In addition to Amesbury Public School educators, the coalition includes Amesbury police, fire and emergency services employees, dispatchers, City Hall clerks and secretaries, school cafeteria personnel, library staff, and Department of Public Works employees. At an all-union membership meeting in July, 120 city employees met and discussed shared problems with contract negotiations.

“We are losing quality new teachers, and some of our veteran staff are not staying, and their wisdom and experience are leaving with them,” said Yetman. “We have reached a point where it is difficult for Amesbury public employees to provide quality public services to our residents, which they both expect and deserve.”

On the first day of school, Amesbury teachers organized outside school and marched in together, with support from parents and students and Fire, DPW, and Library employees.

On September 25, the unions held a public forum for local candidates for office. More than two dozen candidates for local office attended, including candidates for Mayor, Municipal Council, School Committee, Library Trustee, Housing Authority, and Planning Board.

Support Amesbury Kids, Support Amesbury Schools

After that forum, the AFT Amesbury executive board voted to endorse five candidates for local office: mayoral challenger Kassandra Gove and school committee candidates Katie Currie, Jana DeBeer, Mel Webster, and Maryann Welch.

“The people working in our school system have dedicated their lives to developing lifelong learners and it is time for city leadership to stand by them,” said Yetman in the union’s endorsement announcement. “We need real leaders who will advocate for what’s best for children; fight for fair, equitable school funding and bold, innovative supports; and respect our profession and worker voice in schools and classrooms.”

Members of AFT Amesbury, along with parents and other community members, engaged in an all-out campaign to support the endorsed candidates, who campaigned together as an “Amesbury Schools Coalition Candidates” slate. AFT Amesbury held a meet-the-candidates mixer with the endorsed candidates and taped every candidate speech so that members who couldn’t attend could be there. Working with AFT Massachusetts Director of Organization Brian LaPierre, AFT Amesbury sent our mailers to 850 registered voters and door knocked all AFT, MTA, and Teamster families in Amesbury.

“I want to give credit to middle school building rep Andrew Goodwin, who was instrumental to the success of the door knocking campaign,” said Yetman. “My member organizer Laurie Williams was also instrumental and supported my success in these events. And I’m very grateful to the Merrimack Valley Labor Council for endorsing all five of our endorsed candidates.”

For a week and a half before the election, AFT Amesbury members also held signs across the street from all five Amesbury Public Schools, before and after school, and talked to parents who had questions about the upcoming election.

On election night, Kassandra Gove was elected mayor and all four school committee candidates endorsed by the union won as well.

Contract Breakthrough

Even before Election Day, Amesbury educators’ political engagement efforts paid off.

Just before the election, AFT Amesbury reached a tentative agreement with the School Committee for a 4-year teachers’ contract, a 4-year technicians’ contract, and a 1-year extension of the paraprofessionals’ contract. The contracts include a 8.5% cost of living increase, an increase in hourly contractual work, and course reimbursement, among other changes. The contracts were unanimously approved by AFT Amesbury members, and on December 9, the School Committee approved all three contracts.

Looking back on this fall’s political engagement campaign, Yetman is excited about how far the union has come in recent years.

“We’ve never done this type of political engagement before: never endorsed candidates, never knocked on doors,” she said. “This was new and different, but we had a lot of support from AFTMA, and we had such a great response at the doors from parents and community members. We’re going to keep being involved in the political process.”

Now, AFT Amesbury members plan to start attending every single council and school committee meeting, according to Yetman.

“We’re going to be very involved going forward.”