Worcester educators gather at town hall, calling on the district to negotiate a contract and vaccinate staff
The chant at Worcester Town Hall was loud and consistent: “Bargain. Vaccinate. Educate.”
Dozens of members of the Educational Association of Worcester gathered on Thursday afternoon, saying they wanted to bring the negotiating table to town hall after working for months during the COVID-19 pandemic with expired contracts.
More than just wanting a fair contract, educators appealed to government officials for vaccinations. Although Gov. Charlie Baker announced on Wednesday that K-12 staff, early childhood educators and school staff will be eligible for vaccination appointments on March 11, there will be competition to queue for a vaccine due to a limited vaccine supply. This means that many teachers and school staff in Worcester will have to return to classrooms for blended learning without inoculation.
EAW President Roger Nugent stood in front of a microphone and called on union members to keep the momentum going.
“We just have to keep going,” he said. “Keep fighting for all the benefits, safety and everything we deserve in schools.”
The contracts expired over the summer. The union claims the Worcester school committee has withdrawn from the bargaining table.
“The Worcester School Board, Superintendent Maureen Binienda and their bargaining representative have caused unnecessary delays in negotiating succession contracts with EAW members,” the union wrote in a statement Wednesday. “During a negotiation session scheduled for January 26, the school committee’s negotiating team simply refused to attend. This is both disrespectful to hard-working educators and detrimental to students. “
Binienda did not respond to calls from MassLive this week.
Worcester has been practicing distance learning since the pandemic broke out last year, but there are plans to bring students back to classrooms this month. Students with high needs and students in the New Citizens Center program should start blended learning on March 15. Then on March 29, all other students who wish to embark on blended learning will be able to return to class.
Melissa Verdier, a special education teacher at North High School, a member of the EAW board of directors and a member of the negotiating team for Unit AB, noted that educators had been working without a contract since August despite their attempts to work with the district.
“At a time we would never expect, we continued to go above and beyond every day to make sure our students receive the best possible education during a pandemic,” she said. “We have been in mediation, we are not yet finished at this point.”
As the speakers took the microphone, a line of cars circled the town hall, honking their horns.
“We have asked tirelessly to be part of [the] decision-making process, ”said Verdier. “We have a wealth of knowledge and experience, which is why we were hired by Worcester Public Schools. Talk to us. Make our opinions a priority.
Verdier called on Binienda, Mayor Joseph Petty and elected officials to work with educators on a vaccination plan.
Previously, Binienda had said that she wanted all educators to be vaccinated before blended learning started. That proposal changed in February as the administration and school committee discussed blended learning start dates for March, before educators knew when they might be able to get the shot.
Betty Santiago, a member of the union’s transport team, noted that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has updated its guidelines on school bus transport, to allow more students to board the school bus. bus. Santiago said having more students on the bus can create dangerous conditions, especially if people are not vaccinated.
Saul Ramos, EAW’s first vice president and public school education support professional, stood at the microphone and told his colleagues he is at high risk of contracting the virus.
“I’m going back to our building on Monday. I am at high risk. I’m not vaccinated and couldn’t get an appointment and I’m scared, as are many of our members, ”Ramos said. “If we had come back in November or January as previously planned I will tell you, I would probably be dead by now and I know that because the building I work in has had several cases of COVID. “
Ramos said if teachers with health issues are denied accommodations for COVID-related health issues, some may need to take unpaid leave.
Tina Mansfield, a bus driver in Worcester, said she came to town hall because negotiations were not conducted in good faith and because she hopes to get the vaccine soon.
“These are our lives,” Mansfield said. “These are the lives of our students.
Although Worcester schools have been remote so far, Worcester bus drivers have been at work, transporting students to parish and collaborative schools.
“We’ve been working since August and have done everything beyond expectations,” Mansfield said. “We have our MOA. It is ready to be voted on, but the day it will be voted on is the day it expires.