November/December 2019 Issue
October 19, 2019

Despite nine years without a contract, Lawrence local union perseveres

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
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Caption: Members of the Lawrence Teachers Association picket outside the home of a school board member. The local has been fighting draconian givebacks in its nine-year fight for a fair contract. Photo provided.

When your cause is just, you persevere — no matter how long it takes. For the roughly 300 members of the Lawrence Teachers Association on Long Island, “persevering” has meant working without a contract for the past nine years.

Bogged down by a school board demanding draconian givebacks — including eliminating class size limits, requiring all secondary teachers to teach six classes instead of five, and having new hires make 20 percent less — the local has been forced to find new ways to get the board’s attention.

This fall the LTA launched a campaign of twice daily picketing outside the homes of the district’s seven school board members carrying placards that proclaim, in English and Spanish, “no contract for nine years, still working” and “invest in public education.”

Board members have been relatively quiet, although they did call the police. “One of the officers was a former student of one of our elementary teachers,” said Lori Skonberg, LTA president. “He gave her a hug.”

Member support remains strong and enthusiastic. Picketing also took place during the district’s four backto- school nights. “We’re planning to picket outside through November,” Skonberg said. “When the weather turns, we’ll move inside to picket board meetings, and other school events. We wear our union T-shirts daily.”

Since the beginning of the school year the board has refused to abide by the contract: “We currently have 31 grievances filed — 28 because the district knowingly exceeded our class size provision,” said Skonberg.

Although the Lawrence community is Long Island’s third wealthiest, the students who attend public school have a poverty rate of more than 70 percent. Of the more than 8,000 children living in the district, only about 2,800 attend public schools — 77 percent of those students are economically disadvantaged; 83 percent are students of color.

The district has slashed the physical education budget by more than two-thirds and has refused to invest in updated textbooks; fix leaky ceilings; or hire enough aides for special education students.

“It really shows where the board’s priorities lie,” Skonberg added.

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