More Than 100 Teachers Picket BOE Meeting

Board, union at odds over health benefits language in new contract.

The dispute between the Hopatcong Education Association and the school board landed before the board Monday in the form of about 150 picketing union members.

The picket line marched in a slow circle between the high school and the board office prior to Monday’s board meeting, which was moved to the high school auditorium to accommodate the large crowd.

The picket line was held to bring attention to the lingering issue of contract language regarding a new state law about health benefit payments  that both sides say should be in the contract.

The sides reached agreement on a 3-year contract in January, and the contract language issue was discovered during the process of reconciling the old contract and the new one.

The board is withholding a scheduled 1.95 percent pay raise that was due at the start of the school, and in response the union filed  an unfair labor practice complaint with the New Jersey Pubic Employees Relations Commission.

The contract language relates to changes in the state law that mandate the level of payroll contributions required of teachers to pay for their health care benefits. Both sides agree the levels of withholding is set by state law.

“This could be settled in 10 minutes,” said Superintendent Charles Maranzano.

What’s needed is a firm date for the mediation session between the union and the board, which had not yet been set. Maranzano said the session might be scheduled in November.

What’s needed is a “clarification” of the contract language to indicate that state law supersedes any provision on the contract, he said.

Maranzano said he understands the teachers’ frustration. By law they must pay a portion of their health benefit costs, and since their pay hike has been withheld, “their pay has dropped.”

John Ropars, union representative for the Hopatcong teachers, said a meeting with PERC has been set Nov. 1.

The protest was created to bring attention to the issue, he said. The union claimed that a clause in the contract that says that nothing in the contract can supersede state law is sufficient.

“The board knew that language is in the contract,” Ropars said. “This will not save the board a nickel or cost them one nickel.”

In the board meeting, board president Clifford Lundin said that a signed copy of  memorandum of agreement dated Jan. 30 contained a note with an asterisk that indicated the state mediator noted that the health benefit language needed a clarification to show that the provision for “full health care coverage” written into the old contract had been superseded by state law.

That statement was greeted by a chant by the teachers of “bad faith, bad faith,” which carried on for a minute or two until they left the auditorium.

Lundin said the salary increase due for the first year of the contract was paid retroactively, but until the board and the union settle the contract language issue, and thus have a ratified contract, the board can not pay the next round of salary increases.

A copy of the Jan. 30 memorandum supplied by Ropars does not have the comment with the asterisk that Lundin claimed.

Instead an italicized notation with an asterisk is present in a copy of a June 6 note from Maranzano to Jeff Ryder, then president of the Hopatcong teachers union, and Jim Marino, chairperson of the high school negotiations committee, which Lundin made available.

In that June 6 memo, Maranzano said he failed to point out a change in the article of the contract related to “insurance.”

That change, printed in bold under the section entitled “full health care coverage” says “*This provision has been superseded by statute.”

Caroyln September 26, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I was in attendance for that BOE meeting. I was shocked at how badly the union behaved. Standing and chanting "Bad Faith" repeatedly at a public meeting and then storming out in an obviously staged, pre-planned walk-out was absolutely childish. If they are so sure they are right, then why not meet with the board and attempt to resolve? If students ever interrupted speakers on stage, yelled, chanted and then stormed out, diciplinary action would be taken against the students. If an employee were to behave that way in the corporate world, they would be fired. What is with the complete lack of professionalism? By the way, there were a few students present, so students did get to witness this behavior.
Jessica September 26, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Mom Average you are right. My health coverage costs go up every year and I haven't received a raise for 6 of them.
Christie DaLiar September 27, 2012 at 01:36 AM
I agree.... you two should go get one of them there cushy teaching jobs, and show those greedy teachers how it's done! When you drive your shiny Beemer to the school.... be sure to park in the faculty lot: Thats the one with the 02 Hyundais and the '97 accords.
Christie DaLiar September 27, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Politicians have really neglected your profession lately; but after what happened to Elliot Spitzer, who can blame them?
mike September 30, 2012 at 12:51 AM
I do not teach at hopatcong, however I am a very proud graduate who has been teaching for years now. While I don't know the exact details, state law does supercede contract. However, state law regarding health benefits is due to end in 2014, once again allowing districts to negotiate. Removing this language makes it impossible to ever try to get it back. The board seemingly didn't realize this until after ratifying. Now, they want to go back and change language. Absolutely an unfair labor practice. As for the kids, teachers will always be there for them, and they know it. Sometimes, however, we need to take care of ourselves and our families. Shame on you, if you disagree.


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