In an attempt to reach a settlement in the ongoing labor dispute between the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association (GEHREA), which represents 435 teachers and educational support professionals and the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Board of Education, the negotiations committees from both sides met on Monday, November 7th in an attempt to again resolve the issues that have resulted in the teachers and staff working without a contract since June 30, 2015. After close to 3 hours, the talks broke off.
According to Stephanie Tarr, President of the Association, the main stumbling blocks holding up a contract still remain to be salaries and the numerous proposals presented by the Board which would basically “gut” the current contract.
“The Board has continued to maintain its salary offer, which while it has increased very, very slightly, still does not allow for the current salary guide to be maintained.” Tarr said. “We have asked the Board to show us a salary guide and explain how their salary offer would be implemented but to date they have refused to do so.
We believe that refusal is because they are unable to do so. In addition, the Board still has on the table a multitude of proposals which reduces other benefits and makes significant changes to other terms and conditions of employment that have been in effect for years.
Almost all of the Board proposals were rejected by a state Fact-Finder back on May 20th but the Board still continues to demand that we accept the proposals that were rejected and has proposed salary increases that in reality would result in a reduction of salaries and are insulting to the teachers and staff and are no way even close to the settlements being reached in other districts in the County.” she stated.
The stalemate in the negotiations has resulted not only in a Vote of No Confidence in the Leadership of Superintendent John Keenan by the teachers and staff, but also in a Vote of No Confidence in Mr. Keenan taken and passed by the Galloway Township Council in Mr. Keenan.
A Vote of No Confidence by a municipal governing body in a school district’s Superintendent is unheard of in New Jersey.
In the Council’s Vote, it asked for the Board to take the appropriate action and remove Mr. Keenan from his position as Superintendent.
Myron Plotkin, the NJEA negotiator for the Association stated that the negotiations committee was extremely disheartened by the positions taken by the Board at the face to face negotiations meeting last week. “We had hoped that they would have come to the table with an open mind ready to discuss the issues and hopefully resolve the dispute.
Instead, it was the same old thing with the Board maintaining most of the proposals that were rejected by the fact-finder.” While the Board rejected most of the findings by the fact-finder, the Association accepted those findings. “If the shoe was on the other foot and the report came back favoring the Board’s positions, you can be sure that they would be expect the Association to agree to those findings and would not move from their positions.” Plotkin said.
“Time after time, the Board continues to demand that we negotiate against ourselves and agree to proposals that are outlandish at best and have been rejected by an impartial and neutral third party following a 9 hour hearing in which both sides presented volumes of support documentation for its positions. Simply stated, the Board could not provide evidence or documentation to substantiate its proposals. That is why they were rejected by the fact-finder.” according to Plotkin.
The final step in the negotiations process is super-conciliation which is scheduled to take place on next Monday, Nov. 21st. “The super-conciliator is one of the best known and effective mediators in the country. The Association will be ready to stay as long as necessary to iron out our differences and reach a fair and equitable settlement.” said Plotkin. “We hope the Board will come with the same frame of mind.”
“We are waiting for the super-conciliator to meet with us to attempt to resolve this crisis,” said Tarr. “However, our members are frustrated with the Board’s delay tactics and proposals that fall far short of what the fact-finder believes to be fair, reasonable, and affordable, and in fact much lower than what other districts in Atlantic County have recently settled for.”
“Our members want to settle a fair contract as soon as possible,” Tarr said, “It is unreasonable to expect them to continue to go above and beyond their job descriptions while the Board and Superintendent continue to disrespect them and their contributions to our communities.
Next Monday at super-conciliation will be the time for the Board to show they respect the work our members do by settling a contract that is in line with what the fact-finder recommended and what other Atlantic County districts provide their staff.” Tarr concluded.