Thursday, February 2, 2017

Greater Egg Harbor Regional School Board and Education Association Settle Contract

After 2 ½ years of labor unrest between the Greater Egg Harbor Regional Education Association and the Greater Egg Harbor Board of Education, both parties have approved and ratified an Addendum to the prior Memorandum of Agreement resolving the remaining two issues holding up a final contract. 

Following a dispute regarding 2 provisions of a Memorandum of Agreement reached between the parties in December with the assistance  of a state appointed super-conciliator, the Association voted to ratify an Addendum to the Memorandum last Monday, January 23rd. The Board, who was to vote on the Addendum that same day at its regular Board meeting, could not do so due to a lack of a quorum. They held a special board meeting on Saturday, January 28 at which time they also approved the Addendum.

Following the approval of the original Memorandum in December, the Board then did not agree to two provisions of the Memorandum. They claimed that the starting salaries for support staff employees were too high even though the Association had provided them with the draft salary guides a week prior to their vote to approve the Memorandum and received no notice from the Board of any issues with the Association’s guides. 

The Board also argued that the school year should have been increased from 184 days to 185 days. The Association disagreed that it had ever agreed to an additional work day.  Super-Conciliator Martin Scheinman, when asked for clarification, stated in writing that the salary guides needed to be mutually agreed upon but that the Board’s position regarding the adding of an additional day to the work year was incorrect and that no such agreement had been made.  

Stephanie Tarr, President of the Association, stated that the Super-Conciliator made it perfectly clear that there was no agreement to add the additional day. Joe Betley, Labor Counsel to the Board and Myron Plotkin, the NJEA Representative for the Association held conversations in attempts to resolve the two items. “The salary guide issue was the easier of the two to resolve. The Association made modifications fairly quickly to the salary guides which satisfied the Board without affecting any salary increases for the employees.” Plotkin stated. “The extra day for no additional compensation became the stumbling block with the Board continuing to demand the addition of the one day.”   

This remaining issue was finally resolved during the week of the 23rd.  “The members of the Association are reasonable and are professionals. In a good faith effort to bring closure to the dispute and to avoid any further job actions, it agreed to add 15 minutes to the existing 10 after-school meetings in a year which totaled an increase of an additional 2 ½ hours per year.  The work year remained at 184 days.” Plotkin said. “The members of the Association were not happy with adding any additional time to their work day which it had not agreed to during negotiations, but when looking at the settlement in its totality which included increases in salary costs and longevity costs for teachers totaling 4% each year for 5 years, and 3% each year for the support staff, plus other improvements to the contract for all employees, they agreed to the additional 2 ½ hours per year to put an end to the contract dispute”.    

While this agreement resolves the negotiations for the contract which is retroactive to July 1, 2015, the Association is awaiting notification that the Board has withdrawn its unfair labor practice charge which it had filed against the Association. 

The Board had asked PERC to issue a temporary restraining order against the Association prohibiting it from making statements threatening the withholding of services which was initially granted. The Association appealed that decision and the courts stayed and lifted the restraining order pending a full hearing on the matter.  Now that the negotiations have been resolved, the Association had been advised by the Board’s labor counsel that the Board would be withdrawing its charge.

In other labor matters, on December 10th, 2016, Arbitrator Robert Glasson issued an Arbitration Award sustaining the position of the Association that the Board and Administration again violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. 

The arbitrator ruled that the language in the contract was clear and unambiguous and that the Board had violated the contract by failing to compensate three assistant wrestling coaches as prescribed in the contract. The Board was ordered to pay three assistant wrestling coaches $764 each.

According to Tarr, “The Association is expecting another arbitration decision within the next week or two regarding the Board’s failure to properly compensate class advisors. In addition, the Association is scheduled to attend a conference in Trenton in March regarding an unfair labor practice charge it filed against the Board and Superintendent John Keenan for having direct communications with the membership of the Association, thus circumventing its leadership which we believe constitutes an unfair labor practice by the Board and Mr. Keenan.” said Tarr  “I asked Mr. Keenan on many occasions that all correspondence or communication regarding Association business be directed to me as the President. Mr. Keenan has continually disregarded my requests and has stated that he will continue to communicate with whoever he pleases.” said Tarr.

Both the Association and the Galloway Twp. Council took formal “Votes of No Confidence” in Mr. Keenan as Superintendent. The vote of no confidence remains in place according to Tarr. “The issues stated in those votes have not really improved or changed. What is really needed in this district is a change in the leadership so that this District can regain its reputation and respect of the staff, parents and community.  The disruption that has occurred in this district since Mr. Keenan’s arrival has done nothing to enhance our reputation and appears to replicate the issues and problems that were present in Mr. Keenan’s former district, prior to his departure.” Tarr said.

 The Association has filed numerous grievances since the arrival of Mr. Keenan and has been successful in pursuing those grievances to arbitration according to Tarr.

Plotkin, who has represented the Association in the negotiations and arbitrations in the district said “This Administration has done nothing but waste taxpayers’ dollars on unnecessary legal fees to fight the Association and then lose the cases.  It appears that the Board blindly follows Mr. Keenan and the advice of their labor counsel, Joseph Betley. Quite honestly, we have doubts that the Board members are made fully aware of many issues.  That is reprehensible and shows a complete disregard of the proper and best use of tax dollars and only demonstrates a lack of leadership in the District.” Plotkin stated.

Tarr said that “To date, the Board’s costs for legal services for negotiation services and representation in the numerous grievances filed by the Association has exceeded $170,000. These costs are in addition to unexpected additional costs for change orders for the construction taking place at Oakcrest.” 

Tarr questioned whether or not the entire Board is being made aware of these arbitration cases and have actually read the arbitration Awards. “If the Board has not been made fully aware of these awards or has not bothered to read the entire Awards to see what the arbitrators had to say, well then shame on them.” she stated.  “If they have read them and just don’t care or blindly follow the Superintendent and/or labor counsel, well then again, shame on them also!  Continually losing these cases should send a message to the Board and the community regarding the decisions by the administration and what has been occurring during the last 2½ years since Mr. Keenan has been Superintendent. Hopefully, the parents and community will say at some point, enough!” she concluded.         


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