The president of the Andover Education Association says the union is considering an appeal of the state labor board's ruling that a "workplace safety action" Aug. 31 was an illegal strike.
“We are exploring options regarding the appeal process, and are continuing to bargain in good faith with the district in an attempt to resolve the many questions and concerns around reopening,” said Matthew Bach, AEA president.
“We still don’t believe the district is adequately prepared,” he said, although teachers are back in classrooms.
On their first day of professional development Aug. 31, school officials report that nearly 45% of teachers refused to enter the buildings to work, as assigned. Just days before, Aug. 26, union members voted to hold the workplace safety action — and not enter buildings — citing safety concerns over the coronavirus.
The union is opposed to the School Committee’s Aug. 10 decision to start the year with a hybrid learning model — a mix of classroom and remote learning. The union wanted to start the year remotely.
On the afternoon following the union’s workplace safety action, the School Committee voted unanimously (5-0) to authorize the district’s legal counsel to petition the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations to conduct a strike investigation.
Then, Tuesday, Sept. 8, the state Department of Labor Relations issued a 35-page ruling concluding that the AEA had conducted an illegal strike Aug. 31. In the ruling, the Department of Labor Relations ordered the AEA and its officers to immediately “cease and desist from engaging in any strike, work stoppage, slowdown or other withholding of services.”
By the time the ruling was issued, teachers had returned to school. The AEA ended the safety action after Aug. 31 and teachers were back in their classrooms Sept. 1.
When asked whether any further action has been taken against the AEA since the ruling was issued, School Committee Chairperson Shannon Scully said, “The union was ordered to take the steps outlined in the ruling from the DLR. I don’t know if they have taken those steps.”
Bach said the union has been abiding by the orders.
He did add, however, that he doesn’t feel the public schools are prepared for the upcoming school year.
“The district is continuing to drag its feet in negotiations and they’re not prepared instructionally, or health and safety-wise, to open the schools,” Bach said. “There’s high levels of inconsistency in terms of what is occurring at each building, what the administration at each building is telling teachers they’re expected to do in terms of instruction, and in terms of how the buildings are prepared in terms of health and safety.”
The union’s website displays a reopening negotiation document that stipulates proposed health and safety standards for the district to meet “for a safe return to school.’’
Before teachers return to school in the hybrid learning model, the union said it wants “a two-week period of decline in the COVID-19 virus as measured by testing positivity rate, and average daily case count based on a two-week rolling average (for Essex County).’’
In its ruling, the labor board cited data from The Massachusetts Department of Public Health which indicated that the positivity rate of the coronavirus in Andover was low.
“The Massachusetts Department of Public Health COVID-19 Dashboard for the week ending August 26, 2020 reflected that within the past 14 days, Andover was rated ‘green,’ which meant it had an average daily case rate of less than four cases per 100,000 residents,” reads the report.
Bach added that if the union decides to appeal the labor board’s decision, the AEA, which is affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association, will use the MTA’s legal counsel to move forward.
“I disagree with the decision. We all abided by what we were ordered to do but I don’t think it’s a good decision. I think we had worked a complete day and I believe we were productive and we presented our case already,” said Bach.