DEDHAM (CBS) — Union leaders representing striking Dedham teachers met with town school administrators in a Saturday bargaining session, and progress towards a new contract is reportedly being made.

The talks began Saturday afternoon with school management saying they wanted a deal done and would be willing to stay at the bargaining table until that happened.

Earlier Saturday, union members marched and held a spirited rally. Union President Timothy Dwyer says educator’s didn’t want a strike.

“We have no choice. It was the last thing we wanted to do. We were at the end of our rope,” he said. “They wouldn’t negotiate fairly with us. We haven’t met since Aug. 1. We’re just at the end of the rope. We need a contact, we need to negotiate one, but they’ve been unwilling to do so.”

Teachers protesting in Dedham Saturday. (WBZ-TV)

But a few hours later, the two sides were sitting down, igniting a bit of optimism from teacher bargaining committee member Rachel Dudley.

“It’s a nice step that we’ve got a negotiation meeting set” she said. “The first one scheduled since Aug. 1. So we as a team we’ll talk about it, but we’re glad that the opening is there.”

But she also says the membership is standing firm. Issues include salary and health benefits, but also a demand for a policy on student cellphone use, and a policy protecting educators from sexual harassment.

“We spend a lot of time teaching our kids to stand up for themselves and to stand up for what they think is right, and our members decided that this is the time that they’re going to stand up for whats right for them,” Dudley said.

The Dedham School Committee said they made significant progress towards an agreement after an 11-hour negotiation session Saturday with the Dedham Education Association.

Negotiations ended around 2 a.m. Sunday morning and will begin again at noon the same day.

“We kept our focus on doing what had to be done to get our students back into their classrooms,” said Kevin Coughlin, chair of the Dedham School Committee. “We are hopeful we can bridge any differences tomorrow on the issues still on the table and get back to the business of education on Monday.”

Jim Smith

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