The striking Newton teachers have until Sunday night to reach a deal and get children back in school if they want to avoid increased hefty fines, a Middlesex Superior Judge ruled Friday afternoon.
If the Newton Teachers Association and the school committee are unable to reach a deal by 8:00 p.m. Sunday, fines against the union will increase up to $100,000 a day, Judge Chris Barry-Smith ruled.
“I have to approach this hearing as if the goal is to avoid being back here,” Barry-Smith said before dismissing the hearing. “I hope not to see you again.”
The judge had previously chosen not to increase fines on a daily basis last week.
“I proceeded with caution last Friday and it didn’t work,” Barry-Smith told an NBTA representative. “I’m considering returning to a traditional approach. Which is surely that the best way whether to gauge if something is working is by increasing it each day. I have no idea if that would have worked but the reason I chose not to do that was that I thought it was so apparent the dynamic that could have on a bargaining dynamic. I really felt like I gave a more equal, fair and effective bargaining a chance and I’m very surprised it’s a week later and we’re still here. ”
The judge also denied a motion by Newton parents who wanted standing in the case, claiming “severely detrimental effects” on their children’s education and overall well-being.
However, Barry-Smith asked both sides to read publicized letters from kids and families urging the judge to take action.
Both the NTA and the city discussed whether the $625,000 in fines already accrued by the striking teachers could be characterized as compensatory fines and not coercive. The judge was not sure whether he could reclassify them.
“I was pretty clear, that if you think there is no good-faith bargaining, the union should be telling me that because that’s a conceivable way to avoid fines,” Barry-Smith said. “I got no motions, the fines are in place. It would appear to be time for judgment to enter.
The strike began on Jan. 19 after the NTA voted to strike in a push for new contract items including paid family leave for all educators, a humane parental leave policy, livable wages for aides and behavioral therapists, and a social worker in every school, among other things.
Kids have missed 11 days of school since the strike began on January 18.
Before again sitting down at the negotiation table for a 1 p.m. discussion, Newton Public Schools spokesperson announced that the “school committee and NTA bargaining teams are extremely close to settling a contract.”
Due to the lost time, Gov. Maura Healey’s administration also asked the court to appoint a third party to facilitate a legally binding resolution between the NTA and the committee.
Under Massachusetts law, it’s illegal for public workers, including teachers, to go on strike.
Throughout the work stoppage, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller expressed frustration with the NTA, making it clear that funding for the new contract would not come at the expense of public safety and other city departments.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.
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