Updated: As Haverhill Teachers Go on Strike, Union Maintains Mayor Calls All Shots Behind the Scenes

Haverhill Education Association First Vice President Barry Davis, left, maintains School Committee Chairman and Mayor James J. Fiorentini plays a role behind the scenes. (WHAV News photograph.)

(Additional photograph below.)

Editor’s Note: Haverhill schools are closed to students Monday

The Haverhill Education Association isn’t yielding on its contention Haverhill’s mayor is driving the issue over whether the city can afford to pay teachers more and make other educational improvements.

During Saturday’s teachers’ rally at Haverhill City Hall and in previous statements, the union pushed its view even though School Committee Chairman and Mayor James J. Fiorentini, as late as last Thursday, reiterated he is prohibited by Massachusetts ethics law from taking part in union talks because his son is a teacher. Union First Vice President Barry Davis told WHAV Saturday why the union believes the mayor continues to be the leading player behind the scenes.

“The mayor claims to not be involved. Behind closed doors, he pulls the strings and uses the safety net that his son is a teacher and cannot be involved and not answer the public when he underfunds and understaffs our schools,” he said.

Asked by WHAV about Fiorentini’s role during a Sunday press conference, School Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti, one of two city negotiators, acknowledged the mayor’s job under state law.

“He’s not pulling strings with me. I don’t know what they’re talking about. The mayor’s involvement is that he controls the budget. Even the Chapter 70 (state aid) funding when it comes into the city, it goes into the hands of the city before it gets to us,” he said.

The press conference was originally planned to take place at City Hall, but negotiations subcommittee Chairman Scott W. Wood Jr. and Magliocchetti hastily moved it to Magliocchetti’s downtown law office out of concern they would be drowned out by shouting union picketers. Union members also moved, shouting outside the offices.

Davis doubled down on the union’s claim of the mayor’s involvement.

“Our schools are drastically underfunded. We believe that Haverhill has the best students in the world. We have the best teachers in the world. It’s time that this mayor get over austerity budgets and totally fund our schools, pay our teachers what the deserve. We’re not asking to be the richest teachers in the state. We’re asking to get paid the state average and we’re asking them to fund our schools so our students have full classrooms with all of the supplies they need and can learn as best as possible,” he told WHAV.

Davis spoke as Haverhill Education Association President Tim Briggs and his team negotiated with School Committee representatives at the offices of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Haverhill. Davis said Rep. Andy X. Vargas arranged the alternative meeting location, calling it a “neutral” setting.

During the rally, former Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy told WHAV the teachers’ actions draw attention to important issues at stake.

“This is the fruition of the racial justice and the common good bargaining that we did when I was the president. What that states here is the rights of our students to have educators that look like them—our students of color, the dignity and the respect of our educators, but not just in Haverhill,” she said.

During Sunday’s press conference, Wood blamed the statewide teachers’ union for instigating the strike vote.

“We felt that the MTA was pushing a strike in the City of Haverhill and I think if you take a look at the (state) Department of Labor Relations’ ruling, it ordered the MTA to cease and desist from advocating or engaging in a strike her locally which, I believe, was an unprecedented ruling against the MTA,” he said.

A separate statement from Matt Ellis of Ellis Strategies of Boston, reported Saturday negotiations ran more than seven hours and involved representatives of the Haverhill Education Association, Massachusetts Teachers Association and a state-appointed mediator.

Haverhill Education Association members and its supporters rallied at City Hall both Saturday and Sunday. (WHAV News photograph.)

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