Settlement a surprise
But work had never stopped behind the scenes
by Joseph Passantino
Sep 10, 2014 | 2934 views | 0 0 comments | 101 101 recommendations | email to a friend | print
IN AGREEMENT – Mayor James Davis announced the verbal agreement between the board and teachers’ union the evening of Sept. 2. Among those with him were Board President William Lawson (left) and union representative Alan D’Angelo.
IN AGREEMENT – Mayor James Davis announced the verbal agreement between the board and teachers’ union the evening of Sept. 2. Among those with him were Board President William Lawson (left) and union representative Alan D’Angelo.
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When Bayonne Teachers Association President Alan D’Angelo announced in the City Council Chambers on Sept. 2 that a verbal deal had been struck with the Board of Education on a new teachers’ contract, it sent shockwaves not only throughout that room and City Hall, but through social media networks and the city itself.

The hundred or so teachers who had gathered that evening were nearly all unaware of what was about to transpire, and the deal had not been officially agreed to until only about an hour before the gathering.

The teachers themselves allegedly attended at the behest of D’Angelo himself, who was said to have texted his membership to show up for Mayor James Davis’s first “Meet the Mayor” monthly Tuesday one-on-one talk session with residents.

Some say that the union president was seeking to hijack the Meet the Mayor forum to pressure Davis about the negotiations. But teachers interviewed that day say they were there for informational purposes only, to merely get an update from the mayor on where the settlement talks stood.

And while on the surface there was no agreement until later, the negotiations had never really stopped for good on the night of Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m., when D’Angelo was said to have walked away from the bargaining table.

The next few days, including the long Labor Day holiday weekend, featured proposals, counterproposals – and posturing from both sides.

One of the main issues at the negotiations’ end was the $425,000 gap between the two sides’ meeting point and how that deficit would be addressed.

On Thursday, Aug. 28, the day after the talks allegedly broke down, the mayor’s office issued an electronic press release to the media a little before 1 p.m., which outlined what the teachers had been offered, ostensibly to attempt to force D’Angelo’s hand. In the release, the mayor outlined via bullet points terms of the contract, and characterized the union head as “unreasonable” and “ego” driven for not accepting it.

 

“This was a long process for the last couple of weeks.” – Mayor James Davis

 

An online story posted by the Bayonne Community News a little over an hour later on Thursday afternoon generated dozens of calls and emails and was a factor in pushing the talks along, according to a source close to the negotiations.

“The pressure started to mount on all sides to get the deal done,” the source said.

The sides continued to talk, with both apparently still seeing school’s start on Sept. 3 as a do-or-die point in the nearly five-year stalemate.

D’Angelo said that on Friday, Aug. 29, the talks were again in full throttle, with the contract for school secretaries also discussed, in an attempt to get to the same point as that of the teachers’ pact.

Friday communications included emails back and forth on the proposal, as well as a morning meeting between the city and teachers' representatives and an afternoon meeting between the city and Board of Education.

The talks continued by phone over the holiday weekend between the two sides. There were also calls and a meeting on the board/administration side.

One issue that almost spelled doom for the contract again was the administration’s request for the teachers to give a little on their benefits package, D’Angelo said. The city wanted teachers to have a higher deductible, and agree to a slightly higher co-pay, a source said.

The sides also continued to work on the $425,000 difference between them.

There was more talking back and forth on Saturday, then nothing on a final agreement on Sunday or Monday, the union head said.

On Labor Day there were more phone discussions.

Final hours

On Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 10 a.m. the sides talked again, and things started to get close.

Between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m., they again discussed the medical benefits request, and the city asked D’Angelo if they would have a deal if that was taken off the table. The union head said yes, and it was pulled back by the administration. Then there were more discussions between the city and the board.

D’Angelo had held firm on the benefits issue because he said it was something that would have been “disastrous to us.”

The last impediment was the $425,000 deficit, and the two sides agreed to “relatively” split the difference, a source said.

The five-year agreement came together suddenly that afternoon. While the teachers had hoped for an eight-year deal, the sides agreed that getting the overdue four-year contract done, and covering this school year in a fifth year, was still success for all.

Following the verbal agreement between the sides, there was the matter of getting documents explaining the settlement to the board, according to D’Angelo. 

Contract is settled

The $9.2 million deal was official at 4 p.m. the sides said, after the teachers had already made plans to meet at City Hall, so it became a victory celebration rather than more discussion about the contract negotiations.

Two key factors in the final resolution were the mayor’s entry into the negotiations and meeting face to face in the same room to discuss the contract, something Board President William Lawson said had not happened in two years.

The contract is not a done deal, because the union membership and the board must still vote on it. But many observers feel the deal will get passed, because of the toll it has taken on the teachers, and the city, over the last few years.

“This was a long process for the last couple of weeks,” said Davis at the announcement on Sept. 2, a day before school began, and truer words were probably never spoken.

E-mail joepass@hudsonreporter.com.

 

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