The labor strife existing between school employees and the administration and Board of the Greater Egg Harbor School District continue while morale goes down for the over 400 members of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association who have been working without a contract since June 30. The Association represents the teachers and support staffs in Absegami High School, Oakcrest High School and Cedar Creek High School.
Last week, the Association learned that its most recent grievance arbitration case had been ruled on and the Association’s charge that the Board and administration had violated numerous provisions of their contract when they lengthened periods during the PARCC testing was sustained. This was the third arbitration the Association has had with the Board in the past year and one half.
The Association filed its first grievance in May of 2015 regarding the administration’s denial of the use of personal time on days before or after the spring break. The Board attempted to obtain a restraining order from the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) prohibiting arbitration in that case. That attempt was unsuccessful as PERC ruled in favor of the Association that the matter could go to arbitration. The parties are waiting a date for hearing.
The first arbitration was won by the Association and involved the decision of Superintendent John Keenan to pro-rate personal leave time for part-time aides. An arbitrator in June of 2005 ruled that this constituted a violation of the contract.
In the second arbitration case , the arbitrator ruled again in favor of the Association stating that the Board had violated the contract regarding pay for work by support staff on Easter Monday. The Board has filed an appeal on this case which is pending.
Then last week, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Association that the Board and administration had violated numerous provisions of their contract when they lengthened periods during the PARCC testing.
The Association has filed four more grievances alleging the administration violated terms of their contract and is awaiting hearing dates.
Myron Plotkin, NJEA Representative who has represented the Association in all of its arbitrations and its negotiations said that he wasn’t surprised at the victories. “This Administration and Board have taken the position that the contract means nothing to them and that they can change terms and conditions of employment without negotiations and just continually violate the contract. It’s a shame that the Board is wasting tax payer dollars on these cases. This is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. The real problem appears to be that the Board is following the ill-advised advice of the administration which to date, has proven to be at best, unreliable as shown by the outcome of the cases that have been heard.” Plotkin stated.
On Thursday, January 14, the parties are scheduled for a formal fact-finding hearing regarding negotiations for their new contract. Face to face negotiations and attempts by a state mediator and the state appointed fact-finder failed to produce a settlement. The prior contract expired on June 30, 2015 and the employees have been working without a contract since that date.
Stephanie Tarr, President of the Association stated “While we have had our difficulties in negotiations in the past nothing comes close to what is happening under our current Superintendent and this Board of Education.” They have proposed to virtually gut our contract and their salary proposal to us is a joke, especially in light of the salary and merit increases given to the administrators.” she said. “Just this week they denied our request for information for our upcoming fact-finding hearing and when we had a subpoena issued for the information, the Board filed a motion to squash the subpoena so they would not have to give us information we are entitled to. We have also had to file an OPRA Request for other information the Board would not give us.”
Members recently gave a unanimous vote of confidence to its union leadership. The vote of confidence stated “The Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association gives a vote of unconditional confidence to its Negotiations Committee, Action Committee and Association Leadership and will support all actions that may be determined by the Action Committee and endorsed by the Leadership.”
Tarr, told her members that “Your leadership believes that many of the problems we are facing this year and last are due to ideas and changes suggested or implemented by Mr. Keenan, our new Superintendent. We have filed more grievances since his arrival than we have filed in the last 15 years and I am happy to report we have been successful in all that have gone to arbitration. I have had discussions with other school employees who dealt with him in his prior position as Superintendent in Northern Highlands Regional High School in North Jersey. His attitude and actions that he has demonstrated since he has been here are no different than those that he attempted to use in Northern Highlands Regional.
Tarr continued stating “While we have had our difficulties in negotiations in the past nothing comes close to what is happening under our current Superintendent and this Board of Education. The district is one of only four in the County that has not settled a contract for the current year. We are only asking to be compensated in a manner consistent with other school employees in the County. We are not second class teachers and staff and we deserve to be treated with respect.”
Asked about future actions that may be taken by the Association, Tarr said “Our actions will be slow and deliberate but make no mistake, they will escalate based on the Board’s actions or lack of actions. And yes at some point the students may be affected. Do we want that – no, but obviously the Board doesn’t care as they are the ones holding up a settlement. They are the ones that are not showing respect for us and our profession and they are the ones forcing us to do things we do not want to do. They are the ones who don’t care about the kids and they will be to blame for any actions that may affect the students, not us. We are not the cause of any actions – they are. If they cared about the students, they would not force us to take actions that we are taking and may have to take. We are a united front and are not afraid of a confrontation if needed to protect our rights and help us attain a fair and equitable contract. We hope that does not become necessary.” she concluded.