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News from AFT Massachusetts and President Beth Kontos - November 2022

A Message from President Beth Kontos

We won! This month, AFT Massachusetts was part of some enormous victories that were years in the making.
Electoral Victories
First off: on Election Day, Massachusetts passed Question 1: the Fair Share Amendment! Question 1 amends the state constitution to create an additional tax on income over $1 million, with the proceeds dedicated to education and transportation. Now that we’ve passed the Fair Share Amendment, we will have a fairer tax system, and an additional $2 billion in annual funding that will be a great boon to the state, and to future generations in Massachusetts.
Years from now, our communities will continue to see the benefits of better schools, safer roads, and a tax system that asks those at the very top to do their part. A huge thank you goes to all the AFT Massachusetts members who devoted their time to door-knocking, phone-banking, and conversations with neighbors to help push us over the finish line and deliver this historic win for Massachusetts.
Along with our partners in the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, AFT Massachusetts has been working to pass the Fair Share Amendment since 2015. Now that it’s part of the Constitution, we’ll be working to ensure that it results in additional money for our classrooms, campuses, roads, and transit systems, as the voters called for.
We also won another important victory on Election Day with the passage of Question 4, keeping in place the “Work and Family Mobility Act,” a current state law that allows all drivers in Massachusetts to be properly vetted for drivers licenses (by providing proof of identity, date of birth, and residency), pass required tests and buy insurance, regardless of their immigration status. This vote will mean safer roads and better tools for law enforcement to do their jobs, and we’re grateful to our partners in the Driving Families Forward coalition who helped pass and protect this law.
We’re also excited to welcome Governor-Elect Maura Healey to the Corner Office, and look forward to moving forward together with her in office. We’ll be working with her team to share our recommendations for education policy, board assignments, budget priorities, and more over the coming months. As a public school graduate and strong labor supporter, we anticipate a strong working relationship with Governor Healey and her administration.
Contract Victories
Our locals continue to win strong contracts with fairer wages. Members of the Berklee Faculty Union voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new faculty contract agreement, which you can read about here. And paraprofessionals in Peabody just reached a tentative agreement that calls for increased compensation, additional training, and more access to technology in the classroom.
In New Bedford, paraprofessionals continue to run a strong campaign for a living wage, with parents, teachers, and other community members joining paraprofessionals on November 14 to speak up at a School Committee meeting and demand a higher, livable wage.
Organizing for Future Victories
These victories come from the power we have when we organize together at work and in our local communities. In January, our Member Organizer Institute, which trains union members to work as part-time member organizers on issues important to the local school community, will be back in session with a new cohort of members. It’s been a terrific success in helping to focus our local organizing and member engagement efforts, and we’re thrilled to be launching another year of the program with a full day training on January 28.
We’re also ramping up our climate justice organizing with the creation of an AFT Massachusetts Climate Caucus. We are facing an historic environmental crisis, and know from experience that the labor movement must be at the table to shape the conversation if we are to affect positive change for working people. Are you interested in working with other AFT Massachusetts members on climate issues? If so, please sign up here. If you’re looking to incorporate lessons about climate change in your classroom, I also want to share with you a resource I’ve found helpful: “Teaching for Climate Justice,” a collection of classroom-tested lessons and articles from Rethinking Schools magazine’s quarterly “Earth, Justice, and Our Classrooms” column.
Advocating for Our Needs at the State House
Last week, I spoke at a legislative hearing on Beacon Hill that was called to examine the impacts of the COVID pandemic on our schools, and the needs of our students, educators, and buildings post-pandemic. I talked about the profound impact the pandemic has had on our students, from their academic performance to their mental health, social-emotional development, and readiness to learn. I also spoke about how educators – like our students – have experienced unprecedented stress and exhaustion.
But most of all, I focused on solutions: the resources that are needed from the state to help students and educators recover and thrive. I talked about the need to hire the nurses, mental health professionals, counselors, librarians, teachers, paraprofessionals and other essential staff schools need, breaking the vicious downward staffing cycle that is contributing to the exodus of educators.
I called on the Legislature to stay the course on the full implementation of the Student Opportunity Act (SOA) to make long-overdue investments in our highest-poverty school districts, while doing more to ‘middle-income’ districts that are facing huge challenges in terms of student needs and staffing but that may not be getting a large influx of SOA dollars. I asked that legislators closely monitor districts’ use of the federal school relief (ESSER) funds, to ensure they are being spent to make critical staffing investments now.
And I asked that legislators appropriate the new revenue from the Fair Share Amendment in a manner that supplements, not supplants, the SOA. Universal pre-K in our public schools, free full-day kindergarten, free before and after school programs in our public schools, investments in new or updated school buildings, investments in public higher education, and loan forgiveness programs for educators and other public servants: there are so many worthy priorities for this new money.
Finally, I implored legislators to re-examine the state’s broken testing and accountability system, and the state’s intellectually and morally bankrupt school ‘accountability’ system, among other educational policies to better support students and educators. As Governor Healey and a new legislature prepare to take office, AFT Massachusetts staff and I will continue to advocate for our collective priorities on Beacon Hill. And we will continue to win.

Supporting our Students

Every year AFT Massachusetts awards thousands of dollars in scholarships to eligible high school seniors who are dependents of AFT Massachusetts members. The awards, named in honor of former AFT leaders Kathy Kelley, Albert Shanker and Sandra Feldman, and for long-time AFT Massachusetts field representative Jay Porter, are awarded on the basis of a labor history exam administered by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
“Now more than ever, it’s important for young people to understand the role of labor unions in our country’s history,” said AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “AFT Massachusetts is proud to offer these college scholarships to students who are part of our union family.

Learn more:

Earn Your Master's Degree in Labor Studies

Members of AFT Massachusetts are building power across the education and library sectors and influencing labor organizing across the Commonwealth. As we look to the future, we are hungry to deepen our understanding of the labor movement we come from and how we can become better leaders for others. We are the backbone of our communities and have a responsibility to ourselves and others to use our collective power to make all our lives better. That’s why we’re glad to announce this historic opportunity to earn your Master’s Degree in Labor Studies at the UMass Amherst College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

“This program is not only one of its kind, it is the foundation we need. We can only know where we’re going, when we understand where we’ve been and the Master’s Degree in Labor Studies gives members just that. As our communities look to us for answers and guidance, this program harnesses the power of our collective history and power.” Beth Kontos, AFT Massachusetts President.

Berklee Faculty Union Members are Stronger Together

“This contract was one of the strongest bargained in the past 20 years and was the result of an incredible team effort, solidarity of the faculty, and the overwhelming support of the students,” said Will Silvio, President of the Berklee Faculty Union, AFT Local 4412.
Under the new contract, all faculty will receive a 3% raise each year and, additionally, a one-time 2% bonus in the first year. Meanwhile, the wages of the lowest-paid faculty members will increase by up to 19% over the same period due to adjustments to the minimum wage for each faculty rank. This provision is especially important for faculty who came to Berklee as part of the 2016 merger with Boston Conservatory. Additionally, part-time faculty who teach in the Boston Conservatory program will now be paid for office hours and department meetings, like other part-time Berklee faculty.
"I'm thrilled we brought home a strong contract,” said Andrew Shryock, Secretary-Treasurer of the Berklee Faculty Union. “What's just as satisfying was to see so many people come together around a shared vision for Berklee where faculty can do their best work and provide a world-class experience for Berklee students.” MORE.

Peabody Paraprofessionals Reach Tentative Contract Agreement with School Committee

“An agreement such as this has been a long time coming for paraprofessionals in Peabody,” said Doreen Blaisdell, a Paraprofessional from the South Memorial Elementary School. “Pay for paras has dramatically increased in nearby communities in recent years and I am proud to see Peabody join that trend.”
“Recent achievements such as the passage of the Student Opportunity Act and the Fair Share Amendment have provided our schools with the resources to finally take steps to recognize the critically important work done by paraprofessionals to support our students,” said Eric Blake, President of the Peabody Federation of Teachers. “The PFT appreciates the School Committee’s recognition of the importance of paraprofessionals.” MORE.

AFT Massachusetts Statement on Passage of Question 1 – the Fair Share Amendment

The Commonwealth has taken a much-needed step in the direction of supporting our educators, students and communities with the passing of Question 1 – the Fair Share Amendment. Now that we’ve passed Question 1, we will have a fairer tax system, and an additional $2 billion in annual funding that will be a great boon to the state, and to future generations in Massachusetts.
“By passing Question 1, we’ve won an enormous victory for Massachusetts students, families, and educators that will reverberate for decades,” says Beth Kontos, President of AFT Massachusetts. “Starting next year, Massachusetts will have a fairer tax system and substantial new revenue to invest in our public schools, colleges, and transportation systems. Years from now, our communities will continue to see the benefits of better schools, safer roads, and a tax system that asks those at the very top to do their part. A huge thank you goes to all the AFT Massachusetts members who devoted their time to door-knocking, phone-banking, and conversations with neighbors to help push us over the finish line and deliver this historic win for Massachusetts.” MORE.

Workshop for AFT Members

AFT Massachusetts is hosting a retirement planning workshop on December 13 via Zoom and all members are welcome!
The financial professionals of Teacher Retirement Solutions (TRS) have partnered with AFT Massachusetts and specialize in providing independent financial guidance, strategies and solutions to educators, school employees, librarians and their families throughout New England. Join TRS’ John Gregorio, a Certified Financial Planner, on December 13, 2022 via Zoom for a comprehensive workshop for prospective retirees. The Massachusetts' public employee retirement formula, Social Security and living in retirement will be among the topics discussed. An automated email with the details of the Zoom meeting will be sent to members that complete the form to the right.
What: Retirement Planning Workshop for AFT Members
Who: Members of AFT Massachusetts
Where: Online via Zoom
When: December 13, 2022 from 6 to 8 pm

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