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2024 Convention Recap - The Power of We

This year’s annual AFT Massachusetts convention was a historic one, as delegates unanimously elected Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang as President of AFT Massachusetts, making her the first person of color and first openly queer person to serve as President of our statewide union. The convention was also a moment to honor the contributions of outgoing President Beth Kontos over the past six years.

The convention weekend kicked off with a return to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, in Dorchester, for the annual Convention Awards Dinner. We awarded $13,500 in scholarships to the children of nine AFT Massachusetts members, and heard from many of the outstanding students who are headed off to college this fall.

The highlight of the evening was honoring our Distinguished Service Award winners: eight exceptional educators and public service workers who are making a difference in the lives of their students and communities, and powering the work of our union. Delegates also heard a stirring keynote address from Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Chrissy Lynch, who spoke about the common goals of the labor movement in our state and described how unions are coming together to organize and win victories for the working class. 

Congratulations to our locals celebrating anniversaries with the AFT!

  • AFT Amesbury AFT Local 1033 – 75 years
  • Lynn Teachers Union AFT Local 1037 – 75 years
  • Assabet Valley Federation of Teachers AFT Local 3199  – 50 years
  • Nashoba Valley Federation of Teachers  AFT Local 3234 – 50 years
  • Holliston Federation of Teachers AFT Local 3275 – 50 years
Awards Night Photos

Saturday’s main event was again held at the IBEW Local 103 union hall in Dorchester, with more than 200 registered delegates in attendance from more than 20 AFT Massachusetts locals. This year’s theme was “The Power of We,” recognizing the impact of our collective power, and our ability to overcome challenges and deliver for our members, students, and communities when we move forward together through our union.

In an inaugural address following her unanimous election by acclamation, AFT Massachusetts President Jessica Tang described her career as an educator and union leader, from her beginnings as a middle school social studies teacher in Boston to her seven years as President of the Boston Teachers Union, Local 66. Under her leadership, the BTU won major contract victories including significant wage increases, expanded paid parental leave, more rigid caps on class sizes, and funding for new hires to help integrate students with special learning needs into general classroom settings. Jessica also spoke about her vision for AFT Massachusetts’ continued leadership in member and community organizing, political and education policy advocacy, and the fight for social, racial, and economic justice.

“It’s an honor to represent the 25,000 educators, librarians, health and public service workers from across the commonwealth who make up AFT Massachusetts,” she said. “Our union shares a vision of a state with public schools and colleges that all of our students can thrive in, and libraries and public services that all of our communities can be proud of. Massachusetts should continue to be a model for what’s possible, and I know we can achieve tremendous things when we as union members organize together with our communities.”

“I look forward to working together with the members of AFT Massachusetts to build our power, not just as AFTMA members, but as a labor movement and in partnership with community allies,” she continued. “Together, we will amplify the voices of workers, students, families, and our neighbors, and continue to build the great schools and communities we deserve.”

Outgoing AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos spoke to delegates about the challenges overcome by the union during her six-year tenure, from the US Supreme Court’s anti-worker decision in the Janus case to the COVID-19 pandemic, and about the incredible victories we’ve won together, from passage of the Student Opportunity Act and the Fair Share Amendment to deliver the state funding our schools and students deserve; to pandemic-era workplace protections and safety measures; to strong contracts that are delivering better pay and benefits for AFT Massachusetts members and improving our schools, libraries, and public colleges.

“When you elected me as your AFT Massachusetts President six years ago, I promised to use my ‘teacher voice’ to stand up for educators and students. And I planned to recommit our union to organizing, because we are strongest when we face our challenges together,” she said. “As a result of this effort and the on-the-ground work of our locals, we maintained our membership numbers, and over time, through our organizing efforts, we have even grown our membership. And we’ve won incredible victories by organizing together as one union family. I’m immensely proud of the victories we’ve won together, and I’m confident that we will continue to succeed under Jessica Tang’s leadership.”

“My decision to change careers 20 years ago and become a teacher was the best career decision I could have made,” she continued. “Being president of the Salem Teachers Union, VP of AFT Massachusetts, and then President of AFT Massachusetts was an honor.”

Convention Photos

Delegates also unanimously re-elected Brant Duncan to a fourth term as the union’s Secretary-Treasurer, and he spoke about how the union is responding to external challenges, from the impact of inflation on local school budgets to threats to our freedom and our democracy at the national level, by doubling down on organizing.

“I’m proud to report that AFT Massachusetts is rising to meet these new challenges. We’ve expanded our organizing team to include staff focused on external organizing and strategic communications. And we’ve grown our capacity to support locals in their organizing campaigns and reach out to prospective members across the state,” he said. “Through these complex economic times, I’m pleased to report that our union remains in a strong financial position, and that our statewide union and our locals remain committed to building our collective union power and winning victories for our members, students, and working families throughout Massachusetts.”

He also spoke about some of the coalitions that AFT Massachusetts participates in to help advance the interests of our members and students across the state.

“We’re proud to be a founding member of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition that won the Fair Share Amendment and is now working to again raise the state’s minimum wage and ensure that municipal and school employees are covered by its protections,” he said. “From the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance that is working to replace the failed state takeover/receivership system with better supports for high-need schools, to the Higher Ed for All campaign that is advocating for fully funded, fully affordable community colleges, state universities and UMass campuses, we will continue to be a strong coalition partner with community groups, unions, and others who share our priorities.”

Convention delegates also heard from AFT national President Randi Weingarten, who recalled speaking at last year’s convention just after being targeted by congressional Republicans at a Capitol Hill hearing, and being called “the most dangerous person in the world” for her advocacy for her work leading our union. Randi contrasted the hate she encountered in Washington with the love she felt in a room full of AFT Massachusetts members, and called it a moment she would never forget. Randi’s speech also highlighted AFT’s ongoing work to combat attacks on public education and fight for real solutions like pathways to good jobs of the future through hands-on, experiential learning and CTE, a living wage, quality healthcare, wiping out student debt, community schools, and engaging literacy programs.

U.S. Senator Ed Markey spoke to delegates about the many priorities he is advocating for in the U.S. Senate, including the Paraprofessional Bill of Rights he filed with support from AFT. His proposed resolution would recognize that paraprofessionals and school-related personnel keep our public schools and colleges running, and that they deserve fair compensation, benefits and working conditions. U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley also made an appearance to greet delegates and welcome them to her district.

Lastly, we want to give special thanks to all the students from the Murphy Dancers at the Richard J. Murphy K-8 School in Boston, the Tech Music Club at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, and the Classical Band at Lynn Classical High School, who kept the convention lively with their incredible musical and dance performances. And a shout out to the members of UNITE HERE Local 26 who served the delegates lunch and the IATSE Local 11 members who kept our audio and video running flawlessly.

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