In contract negotiations between the Bayonne school district and its teachers’ union, both sides have gone to the public to get their message out. In late March, school officials released the details of their contract offer after nearly three years of unsuccessful talks with union leaders. In early April, Bayonne Teachers’ Association President Alan D’Angelo explained why teachers are frustrated with the school district, saying school trustees are asking for the union to make concessions that were unacceptable, especially in regard to increasing the number of years teachers would need to get to maximum salary.
“If the teachers give in now they [the school district] will ask for more in the future,” D’Angelo said. “And once we give in, how do we get back to where we were before?”
Last month at the Board of School Estimate meeting, D’Angelo said the district went public in order to erode confidence in union negotiators by taking its offer directly to the teachers.
D’Angelo is negotiating on behalf of 750 teachers and 50 secretaries in the Bayonne school district, and until the details were released, they were largely unknown to the public.
School officials accused D’Angelo of not informing the teachers of the offer on the table.
“I didn’t take it back to them because it’s a bad deal,” D’Angelo said. “If they come up with a better deal, then I’ll take it to the teachers.”
But Bayonne School Business Administrator Leo Smith disputed some of the claims D’Angelo made in print and at public sessions, saying that the union’s claims were either “inaccurate” or “half the story.”
According to a public statement issued to teachers by the Bayonne Board of Education a few days before Easter, the offer was a fair proposal that teachers should consider.
The district and the teachers’ union are negotiating a four-year contract, three of which have already passed.
In public sessions before the Board of Education and the Board of School Estimate, D’Angelo accused the district of offering teachers a contract that would include a zero increase for the first year, a zero increase for some teachers in the second year, and a two-percent increase in the remaining two years.
In an interview with The Bayonne Community News (BCN), D’Angelo said the district has also proposed increasing the number of steps (years) in the salary guide from 15 to 19, which would delay by four years a teacher’s ability to reach maximum salary.
In the April 10 edition of BCN, D’Angelo said that public disclosure might be an unfair labor practice, but he continued to contend that the contract offer is unfair to teachers.
Smith said that the board’s offer is not “unfair” as the association president has characterized. “Making misleading statements is a disservice to his members and to the Bayonne community at large,” Smith said.
“Mr. D’Angelo’s mistaken belief that we’ve got a pile of cash lying around just waiting to give him is clouding his judgment.” – Leo Smith
“As an example, Mr. D’Angelo states that `The district offered a zero increase, a fact that he knows is not true,” Smith said. “Mr. D’Angelo goes on to state, `if they had changed their offer, I would have changed mine.’ In fact, the board has revised their offer several times while the union hasn’t moved off their first, three-year-old demand. Mr. D’Angelo's’ statement that `They are getting what they want without paying us’ is also inflammatory and inaccurate—all employees at the board have been paid.”
Smith said that since the beginning of negotiations, the board has asked the union to accept a one-year salary freeze during which everyone’s salary stays in place.
“This was done to avoid the layoffs and job losses that took place all around the state when state aid was slashed,” Smith said. “We thought it was important that we keep teachers in their classrooms and on the job. Alan D’Angelo felt it was important to raise property taxes. At the height of the great recession, that was just not an option for us.”
Smith said teachers were asked only for a one-year pay freeze, and that all teachers would receive an increase the second year, contrary to public statements D’Angelo made that some would not get increases in the second year.
Smith said the district is proposing two additional steps to the guide, not four as claimed by the union.
“Furthermore, everyone in the bargaining unit would see raises from $2,720 to $22,000 over the length of the offer,” Smith said.
D’Angelo also argued that teachers’ salaries were actually reduced because they were now required to pay for their own health benefits.
Smith said, however, this was not a board decision but came about by state legislation, something D’Angelo was aware of.
“Alan knows he could have delayed those costs for his members if he had acted sooner and negotiated a settlement,” said Smith, chiding D’Angelo for suggesting that the teachers could get what they want if the Board of Education “cut back in other areas.”
“He’s wrong again,” Smith said. “We’ve heard what they think we should cut at the Board of School Estimate meeting and they are nonstarters. We’re not laying off his members, we’re not increasing class sizes, and we’re not eliminating activities.”
D’Angelo, however, said during the interview that he wanted the school district to make paying the teachers a priority over some other perceived needs and was certain that there was room in the budget to provide for livable increases in teachers’ salaries.
“The bottom line is that we want to resolve this contract,” Smith said, “but Mr. D’Angelo’s mistaken belief that we’ve got a pile of cash lying around just waiting to give him is clouding his judgment. With a growing school population, increased state and federal requirements, and an aging physical plant, there’s just no way to cut spending to meet his demands. The board remains hopeful that a compromise can be reached.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.