5,000 North Shore Educators Taking Action for Paid Parental Leave

Special to the Journal

In an unprecedented move, more than 5,000 educators across 11 North Shore school districts are banding together for a coordinated series of morning demonstrations next week. The united front presented by local unions belonging to both the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts is fighting for access to paid family leave, calling it an immediate necessity for educators who are expectant parents as well for educators who need to care for family members.

Members of participating unions will gather outside their school buildings before the start of the workday and will walk into work together, raising awareness about public school educators’ lack of paid family leave.  

While educator unions were among the strongest advocates for the state Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, approved in 2018, the law excluded municipal workers, including public school employees.

Consequently, educators need to use the contract bargaining process to establish paid family leave that is comparable to the benefits afforded private-sector workers.

Districts participating in the week of action include Beverly, Gloucester, Revere, Ipswich, Hamilton-Wenham, Masconomet Regional, Danvers, Salem, Marblehead, Georgetown, and Chelsea. The educator unions in these districts are actively bargaining new contracts, with current ones set to expire this year.

Educators in these districts explain why they support the initiative:

“Educators in Beverly keep giving and giving to make sure our students have everything they need to be successful,” said Allison Nichols, a seventh-grade Spanish teacher and expectant mother at Beverly Middle School. “It is so disheartening that our district, in negotiations, makes us feel unworthy of having a benefit all other workers in Massachusetts have access to by law.”

“Every day, teachers come to work and must navigate under-resourced and under-appreciated classrooms,” said Siobhan Keplin, the music teacher and parent of two at Garfield Elementary School in Revere. “Despite working for a community that I have loved for 16 years, I experienced two largely unpaid maternity leaves that my family is still recovering from, and I am far from the only one to go through this. My colleagues and I are walking in to raise awareness of this injustice, and in hopes that with a fair contract, no future expectant parent needs to go through what I went through.”

“With the nationally reported teacher shortage occurring, why would any new educator – especially those planning to become mums like myself – come all the way to Gloucester when they can go to another district that provides this fundamental benefit?” asked Brittany McGrail, an eighth-grade ELA/Social Studies teacher at O’Maley Innovation Middle School in Gloucester and an expectant mother. “If Gloucester wants to attract and retain the best educators, it must offer competitive compensation—including paid parental leave.”

“We are now seeking the same basic rights and dignity. Educators need time to welcome new children into their families and be there when loved ones need them,” said Kathryn Anderson, an eighth-grade special education teacher at Browne Middle School in Chelsea and president of the Chelsea Teachers Union. “This will make us better educators. And being able to offer paid family leave will make it easier to retain staff and to fill job openings at a time when most schools are scrambling to fill vacancies.”

More than 5,000 educators will participate in standouts and walk-ins next week. Members from individual districts will be available for interviews. Each local union will distribute a press advisory with the date, time and locations for their members’ walk-in.

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