No settlements with school district unions

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  • Photo by Patricia Keller Wayne Gottlieb is the Negotiations Committee chairperson. He reported that the district and unions have not been able to come to an agreement on contracts that expired last June.

— Contracts for six bargaining units of the West Milford Township Public School District expired on June 30, 2012 and new contracts are still under negotiation between the unions and the board of education. According to a statement made recently by school board Trustee Wayne Gottlieb, the board's Negotiations Committee chairperson, negotiation efforts have not produced any settlements to date, but the board and its employees are bound by the provisions of the old agreements until new contracts are agreed upon.

Breaking it down
Employees of the district are primarily represented by nine collective bargaining groups. Four are affiliated with the New Jersey Education Association: the West Milford Education Association (WMEA) represents the teachers, West Milford Teachers Assistant Association, West Milford Custodial and Maintenance Association, and the West Milford Educational Secretaries Association. The collective bargaining groups unaffiliated with the WMEA are the West Milford Association of Administrators and Supervisors (WMAAS), West Milford Caféteria Aides Association, West Milford Caféteria Workers, West Milford Unaffiliated Board Office Unit, and the West Milford Bus/Van Drivers. The WMEA, WMAAS, Custodial and Maintenance, Caféteria Aides, Unaffiliated Board Office, and Bus/Van Drivers are the six bargaining units that are in negotiation.

No substantial progress
“Efforts to reach a settlement have moved from conventional bargaining to third-party state-sponsored mediation without substantial progress,” according to Gottlieb’s statement on Feb. 19.

The next stage of the negotiations process entails the appointment of a state-supervised “fact finder” who will receive and analyze data provided by each side in support of their individual bargaining positions.

“Ultimately, the fact finder will craft a recommended resolution based upon an assessment of the facts as presented by the parties. Neither side is bound to accept the result,” Gottlieb added. “The board’s Negotiations Committee has brought forward detailed proposals to each unit in a good-faith attempt to reach balanced settlements that are fair to all stakeholders in the district. In our judgment, such settlements must acknowledge the educational needs of our students, the tax burden imposed on our community, our likely future state aid, the financial needs of our employees, and the managerial requirements of our senior administrators to run an efficient enterprise.”

He said the school board’s last offer to the teachers and three other units “included a modest increase in wages consistent with the Consumer Price Index and the introduction of several work-rule changes to enhance the flexibility and efficiency of district operations.” The Committee also noted that “staffing levels have been well-managed in the face of steadily declining enrollment,” adding that the district is facing a difficult and challenging fiscal environment, as is the case throughout New Jersey.

Gottlieb concluded that the board believes their offers are fair and respect the needs of all stakeholders.

“We will continue our good-faith efforts to reach a settlement in the days ahead and anticipate that our staff and their representatives will do the same.”

Union response

Greg Sheremeta, president of the West Milford Education Association, responded to the statement from the Negotiation Committee.

“At this point I can say that we have finished mediation and, based on the recommendation of the mediator, we are following the natural process of negotiations and going to fact finding," said Sheremeta. "Other than that, I cannot comment since now and in the past we have had an agreement not to speak publicly regarding the specifics of negotiations unless we inform the other side first.”

What's next

According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, “Collective bargaining is a joint decision-making process by which the employer (the school board) and the employees’ representative (the union) reach agreement on issues affecting terms and conditions of employment...Therefore, they can only be determined through bargaining.”

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, they declare an impasse. The Public Employment Relations Commission is then contacted and a third-party neutral mediator is sent to work with the two parties separately to try to reach a settlement. If mediation fails, as was the case in West Milford, the next step in the process is fact finding, in which a new state-appointed mediator hears arguments from both sides and presents a report. The fact finder’s report becomes a public document 10 days after both parties receive it, which sometimes generates public pressure to make concessions that result in a settlement; however, neither side is obligated to accept the fact finder’s report.

If fact finding also fails to result in a settlement, the process then moves to “super conciliation.” This final step is a more rigorous mediation in which state law authorizes the super conciliator to utilize methods such as requiring 24-hour a day negotiations, until a voluntary settlement is reached.

What are your thoughts on the labor negotiation? Go to and tell us.

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