Court orders Haverhill teachers back to work, Malden strike continues

Schools in Haverhill and Malden will remain closed Tuesday as teachers continue to strike — even after the Essex Supreme Court issued an order on Monday forcing those holding Haverhill back into their classrooms.

Haverhill and Malden teachers have called a strike after marathon contract negotiations between the union and school boards failed to reach an agreement over the weekend.

The unions, which say the district’s schools have been inadequately funded for years and struggle to provide students with a quality education, are demanding key changes such as wage increases, staffing support and workload adjustments.

Public employees are legally prohibited from striking in Massachusetts. On Monday, an Essex Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order to enforce the state law.

“It is also clear to the court that the plaintiffs, and in particular the 8,000 students in the Haverhill school system whose interests are within the jurisdiction of the school board, will suffer immediate and irreparable injury if the requested temporary injunction is not granted,” Judge James Lang said in his decision.

If Haverhill teachers continue to strike, the Haverhill Education Association and Massachusetts Teachers Association could be liable for fines.

Haverhill teachers have no intention of giving up, said HEA Vice President Barry Davis.

“What’s happening to the students, teachers and community of Haverhill Public Schools is that we are underfunded,” Davis said. “It is immoral. And at this point, Haverhill Public Schools and HEA teachers have decided to do what is moral, not what is legal. Until a framework agreement is reached, we will be on the picket lines.”

Both sides in the negotiations claimed that they were there to bargain in good faith. The tension between the negotiators remained. The union complained about city negotiators walking out around noon — citing “delay and distraction tactics” — and city negotiators who say the union is misrepresenting the pre-scheduled stoppage time.

“(Negotiators) feel that the Massachusetts Teachers Association has hijacked the bargaining process,” said Darcie Fischer of the city’s negotiating firm, Ellis Strategies. “And they make it very difficult to find a common language with teachers.”

Although Davis said the union was willing to work “overnight,” negotiations were suspended after 6 p.m. and were scheduled to meet again Tuesday morning.

In Malden, which did not begin negotiations until late in the evening, the process continued later in the evening.

At the picket line outside Malden High School — with a steady stream of cars honking their horns in support — morale remained high.

“By about 8:30 a.m., we had about 700 members on the picket line at all seven sites, and we had tremendous support from the community,” said MEA President Deb Gesualdo, noting that students, parents and community members were honking, dropping off supplies or sending messages.

“I think they know how we feel about them and that we didn’t make this decision lightly,” Gesualdo said. “And we didn’t make this decision just for ourselves. We managed to fight for what the schools, our students deserve.”

“We didn’t have a gym teacher,” said eighth-grader Hasan Freeman, standing in line with his mother eating donuts. “It’s awful.”

His mother, high school engineering teacher Ashley Freeman, said the district has about 80 teacher vacancies and the problem is getting worse, leaving many students stuck in classrooms during school hours.

“We’re here because our schools are in crisis,” Freeman said. “A student’s education should not be determined by their zip code.”

(101722 Malden, MA): 6th grade English teacher Melissa Ma waves to passing cars as the Malden teachers go on strike on Monday, October 17, 2022 in Malden, MA.  (Staff photo by Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
(101722 Malden, MA): 6th grade English teacher Melissa Ma waves to passing cars as the Malden teachers go on strike on Monday, October 17, 2022 in Malden, MA. (Staff photo by Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

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