Delegates to the 2014 annual meeting of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) elected progressive candidate Barbara Madeloni as president of the largest union in Massachusetts. The 113,000-member MTA is the state affiliate of the National Education Association, representing the majority of Massachusetts K-12 teachers and public higher education faculty and staff.
Though her victory over the current vice president Tim Sullivan was a surprise to some, it was the result of a long organizing effort by Madeloni and a rank and file caucus, Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU). Madeloni ran on a platform of maintaining and strengthening union rights, labor solidarity, organizing, and opposition to the privatization of public education and to high-stakes testing.
The MTA joins the Chicago Teachers Union and other large affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers in electing new, more militant and more progressive leadership.
EDU grew out of anger over a series agreements by the current union leadership with the governor and the state legislature weakening collective bargaining, seniority, and pensions for K-12 and higher education workers and increasing the number of charter schools and high-stakes testing. These concessions were made with little or no consultation with local union leadership and rank and file.
When pressed about why the MTA did not try to mobilize its members and fight against the concessions, Sullivan and the current president Paul Toner claimed that it was impossible organize such campaigns because the members did not care and the political climate was too difficult. As a result, leaders and rank and file of many MTA locals came together to try to move the union toward a militant, grassroots defense of union rights and the core values of education workers in K-12 and public higher education.
As part of this campaign, Madeloni was chosen by EDU as a candidate to run against Tim Sullivan because of her ability to speak to the issues of educators in K-12 and higher education. Madeloni is a former K-12 teacher and faculty member in the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She received national attention when her teacher-training class refused to participate in a corporate teacher evaluation program that would force student teachers to pay for their own evaluation. UMass Amherst tried to fire Madeloni for her role in the students’ revolt, but a struggle by the UMass Amherst faculty and librarians local of the MTA along with support from students, community members, and other unions forced the administration to back down and remains a faculty member and secretary of the faculty and librarians union.
Madeloni’s campaign seemed like an uphill battle because the MTA tradition is that when the president has served a maximum of two terms, the sitting vice president is almost automatically elected as president. However, she and other EDU members tirelessly crisscrossed Massachusetts, speaking to locals, walking on picket lines, and speaking at public meetings and demonstrations about education. Also, the current union administration underestimated the rank and file anger about the concessions that the MTA had made over the last four years.
When Madeloni received tremendous response to her powerful campaign speech staking out strong positions against high-stakes testing and privatization and for labor rights, union solidarity, and social justice, delegates knew that she really could win the election when the votes were counted the next day.