Jun 23, 2024 | Chapter Updates, Electoral, Labor

SOMERVILLE, MA — The events of the week of June 16 sadly demonstrated how Mayor Katjana Ballantyne’s indecision and poor communication continues to harm and de-prioritize public employees, the staff critical to keeping our city and its services running.

The Somerville Municipal Employees Association is Somerville’s main city union, protecting workers in our libraries, schools, and other public services. They have been without a contract for more than 700 days and have not seen an across-the-board raise since 2021. On Tuesday, June 18, SMEA publicly demanded that the City Council freeze upper management compensation at fiscal year 2024 levels until Mayor Ballantyne agrees to a fair contract. Ed Halloran, President of SMEA, asked for this freeze so that management would “share our burden, share our pain.”

Boston DSA joined Somerville Stands Together, Community Action Agency of Somerville, Somerville Educators Union, and Carbon Free Somerville to support SMEA’s ask for the Councilors to freeze upper management compensation. There was a groundswell of community support for this limited, temporary cut, as demonstrated by a  large rally outside city hall prior to the meeting.

Nonetheless, the Council narrowly rejected the cut, which was sponsored by DSA’s J.T. Scott (Ward 2). Five Councilors voted for the cut, in accordance with SMEA’s demand: JT Scott (Ward 2), Willie Burnley, Jr. (At-Large), Kristen Strezo (At-Large), Jesse Clingan (Ward 4), and Naima Sait (Ward 5). The six Councilors who voted against the cut were Matt McLaughlin (Ward 1), Ben Ewen-Campen (Ward 3, Council president), Lance Davis (Ward 6), Judy Pineda Neufeld (Ward 7), Jake Wilson (At-Large), and Will Mbah (At-Large).

McLaughlin then proposed completely eliminating funding for the city’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) position. The majority of the Council voted to pass that cut. Ewen-Campen and Wilson voted against it.

Two days later (Thursday, June 20) Mayor Ballantyne and CAO Lammis Vargis came to the Council to defend the CAO role. The Council then debated the elimination of the CAO role again at length, but barely mentioned the SMEA contract negotiations. 

Ultimately, seven Councilors reversed their positions and voted to keep funding for the CAO role: McLaughlin, Clingan, Sait, Davis, Neufeld, Mbah, and Strezo. DSA’s J.T. Scott and Willie Burnley, Jr., who both opposed the creation of the CAO role in 2022, were the only two Councilors to remain consistent from Tuesday to Thursday nights in their votes to eliminate funding for the role.

Boston DSA stands in solidarity with SMEA in its contract fight and shares the frustration that both the majority of the Council and the Mayor seem to have lost sight of what is at stake: the public employees who keep Somerville running cannot even afford to live in the city.

The Mayor showed a clear sense of urgency on Thursday when she fought for the CAO role. That sense of urgency is unfortunately lacking in many other areas, with SMEA’s 700+ days without a contract being just one glaring example.
The fight for a fair SMEA contract continues. Join community supporters for a Supporters of SMEA meeting, online, Tuesday, June 25th, from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM. Together we will plan next steps to increase public awareness and pressure the mayor. When we fight, we win!