Teachers File Labor Charge in Response to Withheld Raises

BOE says health care contribution language in contract needs resolved; union says new state law makes language unnecessary.

The Hopatcong  is withholding the 1.95 percent raises due members of the Hopatcong Education Association over an impasse about health care contribution language in the new contract.

The raises were scheduled to take effect with the opening of the new school year.

In response, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the board with the New Jersey Public Employees Relations Commission.

A contract agreement was reached on Jan. 20 and was signed by both parties that day, said John Ropars, union representative for the Hopatcong teachers. The 3-year contract was ratified by the union in March.

The new impasse was announced Tuesday in an email message sent by Superintendent Charles Maranzano to teachers.

“As of this date the Hopatcong Borough School Board and the HEA negotiations team(s) have not been able to reconcile a dispute in the final draft of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). As a result of this negotiations impasse concerning the final language of the CBA, the Board has asked PERC to reassign the state mediator," Maranzano wrote.

“Dates are being discussed and it is the Board’s goal to resolve this impasse with our teachers as soon as possible. However, during the period and until the new contract is finalized, the pending 1.95 percent pay adjustments have been suspended for members of the teachers unit. Once the issues are resolved, all of our teachers will receive all salary due to them,” he said.

But, Ropars said, there is no dispute about the contract language.

“There is no dispute because there was no discussion about the language,” Ropars said.

This issue arose because, as is standard practice after a new contract agreement is reached, the old contract and the new contract are reconciled and any errors corrected.

In this case, Ropars said, the school board is calling the health benefits language an error, and the union disagrees.

The state law–Chapter 78-2011, signed by Gov. Chris Christie last year–that changed public employees contributions to their pension and health care benefit programs, set minimum standards for those contribution, Ropers said.

“These contributions levels were not negotiable,” he said. “This was an illegal topic of negotiations.”

Further, he said, the contract contains language that says if any article in the  contract is superseded by state law, the parties must conform to state law. In other words, since the new state law created the minimum health care  contribution standards, language in the contract restating those standards is not necessary, he said.

Maranzano agreed that the language in Chapter 78 superseded any language in the new contract. The new state law means that health care benefit contributions, which previously had been an item subject to negotiations, were now set by the state.

But, he said, the board felt it could not sign off on the new contract until all unresolved issues were settled.

“We don’t have a legal contract until all differences are resolved,” he said. “We have an issue of semantics.”

The school board’s attorney offered language to resolve the differences between the old contract and the new one, but that the union did not support the language and the impasse was created, Maranzano said.

He said meetings to resolve the dispute could be held within the next two weeks. The school board is trying to show that it is fiscally responsible and is listening to the voters' concerns. Once the issue is resolved, all back pay will paid to teachers, he said.

"We don’t want to create a morale issue at the beginning of the school year,” he said.  

Ropars said this action is not a statement of opposition to the employee contributions, just to the board’s actions to withhold agreed-upon raises.

He noted, however, that according to the contribution schedule in the law, those teachers at the higher end of the pay scale over the life of the contract would see a possible decrease in take-home pay because the level of health care contribution exceed the value of a 1.95 percent annual pay hike.

John Ropars September 18, 2012 at 04:08 AM
On the ground rules, the negotiations ended in January when the parties signed a new contract. The contract was ratified in March. The Board is violating the contract by not paying the salary increase. The law now requires employees to contribute to their health insurance. It's not negotiable and is now an illegal subject for bargaining under the law. Eight months later, Lundin wants language in the contract stating that the law supersedes the old contract language. NEWS FLASH - THE CONTRACT ALREADY HAS THAT LANGUAGE AND HAS FOR YEARS! The current contract says- Separability- If any provision of this Agreement or any application of this Agreement to any employee or group of employees is held to be contrary to law, then such provisions or applications shall not be deemed valid and subsisting, except to the extent permitted by law, but all other provisions or applications shall continue in full force and effect. The Board was told this in August. Either they didn’t read it or don’t understand it. Their position simply makes no sense. It doesn’t save or cost them a dime. They are at no risk in the future. You hope that people in authority will act responsibly, but that doesn’t always happen, and there’s very little that can be done about it. But to the degree that the Board’s actions affect the morale and dedication of the employees, and therefore diminish the learning environment of the students in Hopatcong, the Board bears the exclusive responsibility.
The "Original" Hopatcong Mom September 18, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Mr. Lundin: You state, "The ground rules for these negotiations prohibit both sides from "negotiating in public." But YOU are the one who on several occasions has spoken to the press about negotiations....YOU were the ones who broke the rules FIRST when it came to discussions of contracts with the teachers and most of all the ESP's. I was at the meeting that people stood up and asked for your support in the ESP contracts...some were employees and some were teachers and some were parents, NOT ONCE did the specifics ever come out about their negotiations until YOU opened your mouth!! So, you have yet to answer the public's questions about WHY the ESP's are on YEAR 3 with NO contract???? Because "they're worthless", because they should be "lucky, they have a job" or is it really because you have NO CLUE on how hard-working they really are?? It's pathetic that you have spent THOUSANDS of dollars on attorney fees and negotiators and everyone else over the last 3 years when that money would've been better spend on your valuable employees....you backwards thinking will get you all voted off the board and I cannot wait for that day!! I personally will be voting this November for the 3 people running who are NOT currently board members and even though I don;t know who they are.....they cannot be any worse than what we already have, can they????
Cliff Lundin September 18, 2012 at 01:18 PM
To Mr. Ropars. I recognize that you are the paid spokesperson for the association. You acknowledge that the "100% paid health benefits" clause at issue is illegal and invalid and has no effect. If the clause at issue is invalid then delete it from the contract and stop costing the taxpayer's money.The board did not "sneak" a provision in the contract, we are merely asking that an illegal provision be removed. The union was provided ample opportunity to meet with the board over the summer and refused. That is the basis for the Board's Unfair Labor Practice com;laint against the union.
Cliff Lundin September 18, 2012 at 01:59 PM
To Hopatcong Mom. The Board is just as frustrated as you that there is no contract with the parparofessionals. Because the ESPs are in the same negotiating unit, the impasse has also delayed the implementation of the draft agreement with the custodians and cafeteria workers. It is not that you are not valued in your jobs. The ESPs do a fabulous job and you are absolutely appreciated. It is simply a matter of economics! The Board has a 2% cap limit. We cannot increase the taxpayer portion of the budget any further. In addition, we have been notified by the state that we can expect a loss of $750,000 in year in state aid for the next 4 years. Sussex County Schools are getting hammered and the state funds are going primarily to the cities. Every other negotiating unit in Hopatcong has settled for 1.95%. The ESPs have repeatedly said they want what everyone else has received. Unfortunately, the unit rejected the Board's last offer which was in the range of 2.4% per year over 4 years. Both sides recently presented their positions to the state's fact-finder. Hopefully the report will be forthcoming soon. As one Board member, I will vote to accept whatever the fact-finder recommends. Will the unit make a similar pledge? I absolutely and categorially deny the statements you attempt to attribute to me. You are valued members of our staff and are essential to the system.
snowmom September 19, 2012 at 06:54 PM
You have to be kidding me, give the teachers their raises, now my tax dollars are now going to be used for lawyers. Many children have told me so many great things about our teachers,. Due to all the buget cuts they also they buy some many things for their classrooms. I have been to many board meetings and I can say Hopatcong needs some new members, many our our board members have been on it to long. Maybe its me but I do not think Mr Lundin should be writting on the patch, I do not its fair. The readers hear his side and not the teachers. I won't even get into the ESP's who help the teachers shame on Hopatcong four years and no pay increase that's horrible.


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