AFT Massachusetts's History

The United States was still pulling itself out of the Depression, and in Europe, rumors of war were becoming more than that. No group had been harder hit by the Depression than teachers, whose already low salaries could be easily cut back and whose lack of security made them subject to arbitrary layoffs and doubling and tripling of duties. Through it all, teachers attempted to organize but their organizers were often divided by sex and grade levels - and frequently fired.

More than half the total of all public elementary schools in the country were still of the one-room variety. Less than half the graduates of elementary schools graduated from high school, and less than a tenth from college. The median education for the country as a whole was still only completion of elementary school. The average expenditure per pupil in the nation's public schools was less than $100, and the average salary for the schools' instructional staff members - teachers, supervisors and principals - was $1,374, up $10 from a decade before. Comparatively speaking, teachers in urbanized Massachusetts were doing well, with the average instructional salary at $2,009. but the figure dropped to $1,841 when Boston's higher salaries were taken out of the equation.

As far back as 1916, teachers seeking to improve their salaries and working conditions through unions affiliated with the growing labor movement had formed the American Federation of Teachers, and in 1919 teachers in the Greater Boston area had received an AFT charter. The labor-oriented teacher organization began spreading to other cities in the Bay State, and leaders began meeting on a state level to share experiences, organize new locals and push for legislation to help their members.

Thus it was in February 1938, eleven representatives of then-existing AFT locals in Boston, Cambridge, Lawrence, Lowell, New Bedford, Springfield and Western Massachusetts, applied to the AFT for a charter for a state federation to be known as the Massachusetts Branch, American Federation of Teachers. They chose that name, the charter members said, because the Bay State counterpart of the National Education Association was known as the Massachusetts Teachers Federation. (The name existed until the early 60s when it became the MTA and the State Branch, AFT, adopted the name of the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, then adopted the name AFT Massachusetts by vote of the delegates at the 2006 annual convention.)

As teachers - and other public employees - began the long push for bargaining rights, more AFT locals sprang up throughout Massachusetts and began to work for their common interests through the state federation, but major organizing in the state was delayed by the outbreak of World War II.

After the war, the ranks of teacher organizations were swelled by women who had got a taste for equality in the war effort and by men trained for the profession under the GI Bill. But it was not until 1958 that teachers and other public employees in Massachusetts won legislation guaranteeing their right to belong to employee organizations of their choice. The fight had been long and hard, with the Massachusetts Branch, AFT, championing the cause for teachers, many of whom were still being forced to join school administration-supported "professional associations" controlled by the NEA.

Two years later, in 1960, when the Legislature authorized cities and towns to engage in collective bargaining with their employees, teachers were included - again thanks to AFT Massachusetts efforts and despite NEA opposition - in state legislation enacted in November 1965.

Shortly before the state's collective bargaining act was passed, the Boston Teachers Union, Local 66, which had been organized in 1945, defeated the Boston Teachers Alliance in an election to represent Boston teachers. By June of 1966, the BTU had won its first contract with the city, becoming the fourth AFT local to win a contract with a major city. Another AFT Massachusetts local, the Salem Teachers Union, Local 1258, organized in 1956, gained the right to represent teachers there in the first representation election held after the new collective bargaining act went into effect in February 1966 at carrion sound center. The Lawrence Teachers Union, Local 1019, began bargaining for a contract for teachers in that city shortly after the collective bargaining law went into effect but after months of no progress at the bargaining table, AFT Massachusetts members in that city conducted the first strike by public school teachers in the state.

Activism continued - and, slowly, conditions began to improve until teaches had won unified salary schedules, health-care benefits, vacation pay, pensions and much relief from non-teaching duties.

As an organization, the AFT Massachusetts continued to grow, establishing its own offices, first in Lynn, the center for several of its early locals in the strong union cities on Boston's North Shore, and then, as its membership expanded throughout the state, in the capital city of Boston . To accommodate its growing membership, the organization also changed its structure over the years - while at the same time always remaining closed it its commitment to strong, autonomous locals.

During its first 25 years, the AFT Massachusetts was largely run by monthly meetings of local delegates, who chose state officers from among their own ranks. After the hiring of full-time staff in the mid-60's, delegate meetings became more concerned with setting policy, with the staff planning day-to-day action. In 1968, the delegates created an Executive Board with a president, a treasurer and four committee chairpersons. In June 1969, the AFT Massachusetts held its first annual convention, and from then on, the conventions set broad policy and elected officers. The board made more immediate policy decisions, and the executive secretary and staff made the decisions necessary to carry out policy.

The board has been expanded several times since, more recently in 1997 when the annual convention increased the number of vice presidents to 26. A major change in structure occurred in 1980, when the Executive Board voted to make the presidency a full-time position with the president acting as chief executive officer.

Parallel to its own growth in teacher membership and the improvement in teaching conditions achieved by the AFT Massachusetts and its locals, the organization reached out beyond its base of public school teachers to embrace all school workers - paras, nurses, clerks, bus drivers and janitors - and many other workers in education and health and welfare fields of public and private settings. The newcomers joined the old in militancy and achievement. In 1970, after a brief strike, the Southeastern Massachusetts University Faculty Federation, Local 1895, won the first contract for teachers at a state college. In 1977, the Wentworth Faculty Federation, Local 2403, hit the pavements at the non-public Wentworth Institute, becoming the first AFT Massachusetts local to conduct a legal strike. In 1978, the Fairview Federation of Nurses, Local 5023, was organized as the first AFT Massachusetts local in a hospital. In 1980, shortly after the South Shore Collaborative was created by the state, the Labor Relations Commission upheld the right of the South Shore Collaborative Federation, Local 3961, to represent its workers.

In its most recent decade, the AFT Massachusetts, like the AFT, has also broadened its focus for teacher members by leading the movement for school reform. With its record as a militant union championing higher salaries and better working conditions clearly established since its founding in 1938, the AFT Massachusetts has been free in today's world to add the professionalism of teaching to its demands. Fellow resources Michigan History