Frustrations continue to grow as it appears that school employees may soon begin their second school year with no contract.
The 435 affected employees, including teachers and support staff personnel that work at Oakcrest, Absegami and Cedar Creek High Schools, are represented by the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association.
Talks in the District have not resulted in a new contract in spite of numerous negotiation sessions, mediation sessions with a state appointed mediator and fact-finding with a state appointed fact-finder. The 109 page report issued on June 3 by the impartial fact-finder following a nine hour hearing and post hearing briefs contained non-binding recommendations for settlement.
The Association accepted the recommendations in its totality with only a minor revision to the structure of the salary guide which did not add one cent to the cost. The vast majority of the report’s recommendations were rejected by the Board with the exception of certain recommendations which favored the Board.
On Thursday, the Association opened a “Crisis Office” on Philadelphia Avenue in Egg Harbor City. Stephanie Tarr, President of he Association stated “At this point in time no formal vote on a work stoppage has yet been taken.
However, the Association is keeping all of its options open and is not excluding a possible work stoppage. While the disruption of services is the very last thing our members want to do, the Board has maintained its position in these negotiations of what amounts to a significant reduction in the overall salaries of our members and a diminution or benefits and working conditions.
The Board’s offer does not even allow for the 2013-2014 salaries to be maintained. This is totally unacceptable to our members especially when other districts in the County are reaching fair and equitable agreements.” Tarr stated.
While no formal strike vote has yet been taken, staff members have been wearing buttons that state “8/30”. Tarr would not offer any explanation as to the significance of that number except that August 30 is the first student day of school in the district.
The state recently appointed Martin Scheinman, Esq., a nationally renowned mediator and arbitrator as the “super-conciliator” who will attempt to assist the parties in reaching a settlement.
Myron Plotkin, the NJEA representative representing the Association, said that the parties were unable to mutually agree on a “super-conciliator” and following the Board’s refusal to file a joint request with the Association to the State, the Association filed the request on its own.
Mr. Scheinman is a renowned and well respected mediator/arbitrator and has vast experience is resolving difficult labor disputes. He has arbitrated or mediated over 10,000 disputes throughout the United States. “A “super-conciliator” can order the parties to meet acceptable super-conciliator the clock in order to reach a settlement. He can also write a recommendation for a settlement. However, that recommendation is not binding on the parties.
The Association hopes that Mr. Scheinman’s experience and his abilities at persuasion will result in a fair and equitable settlement.” Plotkin said. “This is the last step in the formal negotiations process. If no settlement can be reached, then it will be left up to the Association to determine what future actions may be taken.”
According to Plotkin, the Association has and will continue to make every attempt to resolve the dispute. “The Association accepted the fact-finder’s recommendations even though there were some there were some we were not happy with.
The Board basically rejected all recommendations that favored the Association.” Plotkin said “The Association is attempting to reach a fair and equitable settlement just like other districts have done in Atlantic County. If other districts can negotiate in good faith and reach agreements in these economic times, we see no reason why this Board is any different. We only want what is fair.”
On July 5th, Association members set up informational picket lines at Oakrest and Absegami High Schools. Union construction workers working at the two schools did not cross the picket lines and did not report for work until after the Association’s lines had come down.
While no exact date has been set for a meeting with the super-conciliator, Tarr stated “Hopefully a settlement can be reached during super-conciliation. We are prepared to spend the entire night, if necessary to reach a fair deal. We are doing and will continue to do all within our power to resolve this dispute without any need for any disruption, however, our patience is running thin and we need to bring closure to this dispute and will not allow it to continue to drag on. We want to be able to return to what we do best, teach and care for the children.”