BTU’s Tang in bid to lead group’s state organization

Jessica Tang

The president of the Boston Teachers Union has set her sights on the top leadership role of the group’s statewide parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts.

The bid by Jessica Tang comes as current AFT-MA leader Beth Kontos plans to step down from the role next month after six years in the position. If elected, Tang, 42, would become the first person of color to helm the organization, which is one of two statewide teacher unions in Massachusetts.

“When I heard that Beth was not seeking re-election I definitely thought hard about whether this was the right path for me,” Tang said in an interview on Monday. She added her decision to run was guided by a desire to fight for things like smaller class sizes and paid parental leave across more districts.

AFT-MA is the smaller of the two statewide teacher unions – MTA, or Massachusetts Teachers Association, is the other one – representing more than 24,000 members in school districts such as Lawrence and Salem.

A former BPS middle school social studies teacher, Tang was elected BTU president in 2017, shortly before the union finalized a two-year contract with Boston Public Schools. At the time, Tang ran unopposed and was the first person of color, first member of the LGBTQ community, and first woman in three decades to lead BTU.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in Boston on things like getting lower class sizes or getting a school nurse in every school,” Tang said. “My hope, if I’m elected, is to continue that fight.”

The BTU, which in late February began negotiations on its next contract, represents more than 10,000 educators in Boston, including teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses, and guidance counselors.

Tang says she’s proud of such accomplishments as negotiating three contracts, establishing a BTU back-to-school fair, and launching several new active committees like the New Educators Committee, which supports early career educators.

According to her campaign website, she is dedicated to such platforms as having a strong presence on Beacon Hill, making the AFT-MA an antiracist organization, and ensuring that educators are among the first stakeholders to be consulted for local and state education policy.

As of Monday, Tang is running unopposed for the AFT-MA leadership role. A group of AFT-MA delegates appointed from each local union will be casting their votes on May 4, so there would still be time for others to make a bid.

Kontos said she’s stepping down so she can spend more time with family, as she’s about to become a grandmother. She also wants to put more support behind other advocacy efforts such as equitable school funding and making Massachusetts school buildings more climate-resilient.

“I’ll stick around and support the next person certainly,” Kontos said, adding she believes union leadership should turn over regularly. “This was me saying it’s time for somebody else.”

If Tang is elected to become AFT-MA’s new president, BTU vice-president Erik Berg would take the helm until elections are held to elect a new BTU leader.

This article was published by WBUR on April 1. WBUR and The Reporter share content through a media partnership.

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