State Investigator Largely Backs City Over Haverhill Teachers’ Union in Strike Money Case

Haverhill Education Association members and supporters rally during October 2022 at Haverhill City Hall. (WHAV News photograph.)

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A state Department of Labor Relations investigator ruled largely in favor of the City of Haverhill Friday over issues surrounding last fall’s teachers’ strike.

Investigator Carey D. Shockey dismissed all of the Haverhill Education Association’s charges of prohibited practices, including an allegation the Haverhill School Committee acted in bad faith when it continued to demand another $300,000 from the union to settle costs related to the Oct. 17 through 20 strike. The union argued Haverhill broke the law when it did not stand by a verbal agreement that “it would not seek additional monies from the union beyond the $200,000 the union agreed to pay…” Shockey ruled the union could not prove its claim.

“In other words, almost immediately after (Haverhill Education Association President Tim) Briggs was allegedly assured that the School Committee would no longer seek any further monies, such a promise was immediately disclaimed. The union has produced no other evidence of any such agreement with the School Committee, whether in email, other contemporaneous document, immediately subsequent announcement, or any other form,” he wrote in the Sept. 1 ruling.

The union has a right to appeal, but the significance of the ruling remains unclear. This is because, as WHAV alleges, the Haverhill School Committee violated the state open meeting law when it listed an ambiguous item on its agenda Aug. 24, proceeded to meet behind closed doors and vote to dismiss legal action to recover more money for strike-related costs, including extending the school year. There are no official records of what transpired during the secret session, but current union President Barry Davis singled out School Committee members Scott W. Wood Jr. and Toni Sapienza-Donais in a press release for leading the effort that resulted in a reported 5-1 vote to end litigation.

The only active Superior Court case is one brought by the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board and the Haverhill School Committee against the Haverhill Education Association, Massachusetts Teachers Association, Briggs and Christine Hickey in the union roles.

Shockey’s revelation—that Wood drove the effort last October to seek more money from the union—made the recent vote all the more puzzling.

“During these conversations, Wood emphasized that the School Committee would not withdraw its court complaint and needed approximately $300,000 more in work stoppage costs covered to reopen the Haverhill Public Schools,” Shockey wrote.

The investigator ruled the union and the strike “interfered with, restrained or coerced the School Committee” illegally. However, Shockey decided, that while the union’s strike preparations were discovered by school officials, “there is no evidence that the union sought or intended to leverage this preparatory activity as a strike threat at the bargaining table prior to when the parties began mediation.”

The investigator ruled against the union’s claims the city engaged only in “surface bargaining” without intending to reach any agreement and dragged out the strike itself. On the first claim, Shockey decided, “the parties’ failure to reach agreement during this period was—in no small part—because they were still in the early stages of negotiation.” As for the latter, he said, “While the union argues that the employer sought to draw out its strike, it had the ability to return to work at any time it chose, irrespective of the School Committee’s actions. Moreover, the Employer regularly and substantively participated in the mediation process…”

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