‘There isn’t a chance in hell:’ Striking Newton teachers union president blasts contract

The Newton Teachers Association, which represents about 2,000 teachers and other school workers, faces an 8 p.m. deadline Sunday to end its strike. If it doesn’t, the union faces a $50,000-per-day fine imposed by a Middlesex Superior Court judge.

The work stoppage began Jan. 19, after more than a year’s worth of negotiations didn’t lead to a new contract. The last contract ended Aug. 31.

Teacher strikes are illegal in Massachusetts. The union has been fined $375,000 so far for its strike, after ignoring Middlesex Superior Court Judge Christopher K. Barry-Smith’s order to return to work. On Friday afternoon, Barry-Smith ordered the daily $50,000 fine if the union does not end its strike.

Saturday evening both sides said talks would continue into the night, but they expressed little optimism for a breakthrough.

Mike Zilles, the union president, has accused school negotiators of not bargaining in good faith and criticized Fuller for not personally attending the sessions.

During a press conference Saturday night, Zilles angrily criticized Fuller and the School Committee. Fuller “chronically underfunds” the city’s public schools, and “does not deserve” the title of mayor, Zilles told reporters.

While the sides were able to agree on the language for a new family leave plan, Zilles said progress stalled after he said the School Committee proposed increases in health insurance costs for members.

“They don’t understand what reality is like,” Zilles said. “There isn’t a chance in hell that the membership of the NTA would ever vote to ratify what they’re putting on the table.”

Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has repeatedly called for the strikers to return to work and continue talks while the children are in school. In a statement Friday night, the mayor pledged wages and benefits “that are competitive and that show respect” for educators.

In brief, separate statements released a few minutes after the union’s Saturday night press conference Fuller and the School Committee said little about the day’s talks, other than pledging to continue them. Both described the day’s negotiations as “productive.”

“The School Committee is doing everything possible to settle the contract to return kids to school on Monday,” the board’s statement said.

The School Committee has estimated the union’s proposals would cost $100.2 million over four years, versus its own $45.4 million package. City officials have said adopting the union’s plan would force layoffs and program cuts, while the union said Newton has a budget surplus.

In the early afternoon, hundreds of union supporters rallied on the steps of Newton City Hall

Members of other local teachers unions, like Boston, Cambridge, Marblehead, Canton, and Hingham, signaled their support for Newton educators Saturday.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey reiterated their earlier support for the striking teachers Saturday.

Each side has portrayed the other as being unwilling to work toward a new contract.

In a Superior Court filing Friday, Newton Superintendent Anna Nolin described a contentious scene during a Jan. 23 bargaining session.

During that session, Nolin described union members yelling at School Committee negotiators, then walking out of the meeting.

“The NTA’s bargaining team began to shout, then walked out. [Mediator Timothy] Hatfield directed them to cease yelling, and stated that ‘this is not productive. We will return to regular mediation,’” Nolin said.

Since that time, the sides have not engaged in face-to-face talks with their entire bargaining teams, according to Nolin, though smaller groups have met in the presence of the mediator.

On Saturday, the union shared an edited video titled “Mayor Fuller vs Reality” that cut between a recording of union members’ visit to Fuller’s office Thursday and the mayor’s remarks during a subsequent press conference.

In the video, union members were filmed standing outside the closed door to Fuller’s City Hall office, and then being ordered to leave by Newton police.

The video cut to Fuller telling reporters that what the union members did “was not role modeling what I think our adults should be doing here in Newton.”

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.

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