While over 100 staff members with signs protesting their lack of a contract sat in the regular Board meeting, talks held on Monday night failed to produce a settlement between the 435 member Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association and the Board of Education. Representatives met prior to and after the Board’s regularly scheduled board meeting in an attempt to resolve the ongoing contract negotiations between the parties.
The talks were the result of the Board requesting to meet with the Association to “further explore the Board’s proposal” submitted to the Association on June 8.
The Board’s June 8 proposal rejected almost all of the recommendations made in the 109 page fact-finding report issued by a state appointed neutral fact-finder. According to Myron Plotkin, the NJEA negotiator for the Association, the report rejected almost all of the proposals put forth by the Board to delete economic provisions contained in the last contract which expired on June 30, 2015.
The Association accepted all of the recommendations in the report except for requesting a slight modification to the structure of the salary guide which did not increase the cost to the Board.
“The Association was extremely disappointed in the position taken by the Board on Monday night.” Plotkin said “Since it was the Board that had requested the meeting to further explore their proposals, we believed the Board was prepared to modify their proposals based on the fact-finder’s report and present to us salary guides which we had requested from them based upon their salary proposal. None of that took place.” Plotkin said. “Instead the Board wanted the Association to devise a salary guide utilizing their proposed increases and basically played a shell game in moving proposals around but really making no modifications to the their overall positions.”
Plotkin continued stating that the Board was just playing games trying to make it appear that they were somehow modifying their proposals when in reality nothing of that nature took place. “We will not negotiate against ourselves. We are no closer together in reaching a settlement when we left the meeting then when we came in” he said. “The Board must have believed that this was the Association’s first rodeo and that we would buy and be taken in by their shell game. The Association had asked the Board for salary guides based on their proposals in order to see how the money was distributed and the structure of the salary guide but received nothing from them. We believe they didn’t provide guides because they were unable to do so based on their proposals.”
While a super-conciliator has been appointed by the state to try to assist the parties in reaching an agreement, no date has yet been set. Stephanie Tarr, President of the Association said that the frustration level of her members is growing daily. A meeting of the full Association has been scheduled for August 29 which is the first day of school for staff only. The first student day is scheduled for Aug 30. The staff has been wearing buttons that state “8/30” but no explanation of the significance of that date has been forthcoming by the Association.
Tarr stated “At the conclusion of our negotiations session on Monday, we informed the Board that we were rejecting their so called proposal and that we would now wait for the super-conciliator or for whatever may happen as determined by the Association.” When asked if that included a strike, Tarr said “At this point in time, no action is being ruled out. I am sure many things will be discussed at our meeting next Monday.” she said. “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 of benefits and working conditions. The ball is in their court” Tarr continued. “They are the ones with the power to settle this contract in a fair and equitable manner. If almost all of the other districts in the County can settle their contracts with reasonable salary increases and without stripping the contract of benefits and other salary related issues, there is no reason why this district cannot do the same.
We have negotiated many contracts in the past and have never faced attitudes and proposals as being put forth by this Board and central administration in these negotiations. They seem to forget that we accepted a 0% increase during our last negotiations. It appears that the actions and positions being taken by the Board may be directly related to the change in the administration 2 years ago. We were always able to work things out with prior Boards and Superintendents. Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be the case as their proposals are just outlandish.”
In July, the Association opened a “Crisis Office” on Philadelphia Avenue in Egg Harbor City. The purpose for the office according to Tarr was to hold meetings of the leadership of the Association in the event school facilities are not available. Tarr concluded that “All we want is to be able to return to what we do best, teach and care for the children.”
Plotkin said in the past 30 years, there has only been two strikes in Atlantic County. “Believe me, our members do not want to be number 3. The Association has and will continue to make every attempt to resolve the dispute. 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 the position taken by the Board on Monday did not help the situation. We need to bring closure to this dispute and will not allow it to continue to drag on.”