MEA ratifies new contract on Wednesday as teachers return to classrooms
Approximately 250 people stood in solidarity with members of the Malden Teachers Association (MEA) outside Malden City Hall last Saturday but thankfully, did not have to continue walking the picket line when a tentative agreement was reached after an emergency meeting between the MEA and School Committee on Monday night.
According to a statement released by MEA on Wednesday, The Malden Education Association overwhelmingly voted to ratify a new contract Wednesday after the coalition bargaining team reached a tentative agreement earlier this week. Educators returned to school on Tuesday.
The ratification vote is the culmination of the courage of our coalition bargaining team who stood strong with the backing of striking MEA union educators to win a contract that supports students, educators, and the Malden community.
“This contract is a testament to the MEA’s solidarity,” said MEA President Deb Gesualdo. “Our members have been engaged throughout the entire process to win a contract that recommits our school community to ensuring that housing insecurity is not a barrier to our students’ academic success, educators are paid competitively and fairly, and our students’ education is not dependent on their ZIP code.”
The MEA verified the election results Wednesday afternoon in which an overwhelming majority of the members approved the tentative agreement.
“More than 700 MEA members harnessed their union strength, took action in their workplaces, and were engaged throughout the entire process to fight for the school that our students deserve,” said MEA’s Coalition Bargaining Committee Co-Chair Doug Dias.
The original concerns centered around safety, learning conditions and classroom sizes, as well as a living wage for paraprofessionals and teachers. Since they didn’t reach an agreement by Sunday night, approximately 700 teachers and staff went on strike Monday morning. However, the School Committee and union representatives called an emergency meeting Monday night, leading to a tentative agreement. Teachers returned to the classroom on Tuesday morning.
“We’re currently bargaining with the School Committee, who knew the contract was expiring in August,” Malden Teachers Association President Deb Gesualdo said during Saturday’s rally outside of City Hall. “They were poorly prepared and aren’t willing to discuss.”
Gesualdo, who teaches music at Linden STEAM Academy, said what she referred to as disproportion was entirely preventable but that the issue tends to happen more to women than to men. She commented on the tentative agreement. “Educators are back in classrooms with students today – where everyone wants to be day in and day out,” Gesualdo said Tuesday morning. “Getting the resources to help guide our students to their potential and create the schools our students deserve is at the heart of why we made the difficult decision to strike.”
Allies and teachers from surrounding communities came out.
School Committee Vice Chair Jennifer Spadafora said the Negotiations Subcommittee had been working with MEA since May. “Our Negotiations Subcommittee has been meeting to bargain since May with the Malden Education Association, and will continue to do so in good faith,” Spadafora said. “The strike vote, while surprising, doesn’t change my commitment as a School Committee member and a Malden Public School parent to making sure we settle this contract fairly, and continue to collaborate for the benefit of the most important group of people we serve – the students.”
School Committee member Adam Weldai was happy to see progress. “Malden loves our educators and knows what a difference they make in the lives of our students and the future of our community,” Weldai said. “Balancing that love with the long-term fiscal needs of the community is one of the hardest things the committee does. However, after some real collaboration with our MEA partners, we got to a resolution, and we can all walk away recommitted to working together for the benefit of our students.”
Mayor Gary Christenson was out of town Saturday but released a statement later that night. “We are deeply surprised and disheartened that the leadership of the Malden Education Association is willing to inconvenience families and disrupt the education of more than 6,000 students in order to advance its collective bargaining positions, especially as we are not currently at an impasse,” Christenson said. “Contrary to reports that the School Committee has not responded to proposals, the Negotiations Subcommittee has been and will continue to negotiate in good faith until we reach agreement on a contract that is fair to our employees, is in line with the economic realities facing the City and meets the needs of our students and families.”
Malden Public Schools Supt. Ligia Noriega-Murphy said in a statement released on Tuesday that the decision impacts students the most.
“This maneuver by leaders of the Malden Education Association may be intended to send a message to school district leaders, but ultimately, it is our students and families who suffer the consequences of these tactics,” Noriega-Murphy said Saturday. “In order to alleviate parents’ anxiety, we have sent a letter to families explaining that we will notify them over the weekend if it appears likely that the MEA will move forward with a strike. At this point, schools are scheduled to open as usual on Monday, but in the event of a last-minute strike, we would be left with no choice but to cancel school for students and ask parents to make other arrangements for their children.”
Weldai, Christenson, Spadafora and Gesualdo, who noted that they couldn’t release specific details of the agreement, said it’s still in process between its members.
“While I’m unable to discuss the agreement in detail, I believe the deal we have established with our local teachers union shows that we value our educators in Malden,” Spadafora said Tuesday. “You can’t put a dollar amount on the worth of our teachers, directors or educational support professionals but you can provide them with a safe and supportive work environment where they feel valued. We want to provide fair and reasonable living wages to all of our employees so I implore the educators, caregivers and our community to continue to fight for federal funding equal to the communities surrounding Malden. Our #1 priority is the students we serve and they deserve (and demand) a quality education. Now that we have come to a tentative agreement, our focus for the future is communication and collaboration.”
School Committee member Joseph Gray said he’s thankful for the patience and perseverance on all sides of the negotiating table to come to a tentative agreement that gets Malden children back in the schools and learning. “Our talented teachers and our outstanding School Committee came together to move forward,” Gray said Tuesday