Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Greater Egg Harbor Regional School Board Schedules Negotiations with School Employees

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.  

The Board’s Labor Counsel, Joseph Betley, contacted the Association’s negotiator, Myron Plotkin, on Sunday, August 7 and requested on behalf of the Board that a formal negotiations session be held prior to the beginning of the school year and prior to a meeting with the super-conciliator, Martin Scheinman, who was appointed by the State. No date has been set for the meeting with Mr. Scheinman. 

The purpose of the meeting according to the Board is to further explore the Board’s proposal which had been submitted to the Association on June 8 following receipt of the state fact-finder’s report. 

Stephanie Tarr, President of the Association, stated that the Board’s proposal was unacceptable to the Association as it still stripped the contract of its guts and added a new condition that in order for a settlement to be reached, the Association would need to drop all of its pending grievances and arbitrations. “This Association will not acquiesce to the Board’s demand that we basically allow the Superintendent and Board to continually violate our contract and waive any recourse we have through the grievance procedure” she said.  

The Association agreed to the negotiations session which is scheduled to take place on Monday, August 22 prior to the Board’s regular meeting. According to Plotkin, if progress is being made, the parties may continue the negotiations following the Board meeting. “The Association is ready to stay as long as may be necessary to achieve a fair and equitable settlement. The last thing the staff wants to see is any disruption of education” Plotkin said. 

The Association engaged in informational picketing at the three high schools on July 5 which resulted in union contractors not crossing the picket line until the Association members shut down their line.  

In July, the Association opened a “Crisis Office” in Egg Harbor City. Tarr 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 which results in a significant reduction in the overall salaries of our members and a diminution of 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.” 

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.

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.”   

“Super-Conciliation is the final 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.” said Plotkin.    

While no exact date has been set for a meeting with the super-conciliator, Tarr stated “Hopefully a settlement can be reached at our meeting on the 22nd and super-conciliation will not be necessary. We are cautiously optimistic as it was the Board who requested this meeting. 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.”  


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