For over two years the Franklin Lakes Education Association had been negotiating a contract with the Franklin Lakes Board of Education without coming to a fair and equitable agreement. Consequently, FLEA members were working under the terms and conditions of a contract that had expired on June 30, 2017.

While working under an expired contract is an all-too-familiar experience for some local association members, the reality of Chapter 78 has exacerbated such settlement delays. While salaries remained frozen at 2016 levels for FLEA members, health insurance premiums continued to rise. The pace at which the onerous payroll deductions required by Ch. 78 increased continued unabated. Take-home pay dropped even more sharply than in previous years under that 2011 law.

On June 10, FLEA members went on strike.

“My members, the teachers and support staff in our schools, deserve better,” FLEA President Sharon Milano said as she announced the strike. “Although we are ready at any point in time to return to the table with the board, I cannot expect my members to settle for anything less than what they deserve.”

Leading up to the strike, FLEA and the school board had received a fact-finder’s report on May 30. The association immediately rejected it. FLEA’s UniServ Field Representative Joe Tondi and the school board president then worked throughout the following weekend to fashion a compromise. Upon hearing the proposed compromise, the FLEA negotiations team was certain it could bring the agreement back to FLEA members for ratification. However, by Sunday, June 9, FLEA learned that a majority of the school board’s negotiating team would reject the compromise. Early that Monday morning in a general membership meeting, after having in previous weeks taken a vote of no-confidence in the Franklin Lakes Board of Education, FLEA members voted to strike.

NJEA President Marie Blistan, NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller and NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty immediately issued a statement of support. Blistan, Spiller and Beatty raced to Franklin Lakes to support the members there.

“We stand in proud solidarity with the members of the Franklin Lakes Education Association, who have taken a bold, principled stand on behalf of their students and the future of the schools in their community,” the NJEA officers wrote. “By making this difficult but necessary decision, they are demonstrating their commitment to their students, their community and the future stability of the district.”

Milano noted that surrounding school boards and local associations had agreed to Ch. 78 relief and that the Franklin Lakes Board of Education had the means to do so as well.

“The Franklin Lakes Education Association seeks the relief that other educators in Bergen County have negotiated,” Milano said at the time. “In the meantime, FLEA members are making every effort to get this dispute resolved, and the negotiations team remains available at any time to meet with the board of education.”

That effort and availability paid off. In the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 11, the FLEA bargaining team and the school board, settled upon a deal that would end the strike after one day.

With salary guides under development, the association and the board expect to take ratification votes early in the fall.

“I am proud of my members for standing up for what is right,” Milano said. “They demonstrated their resolve to be treated as professionals. We now look forward to returning our undivided attention to our classrooms and our students, which is where we would much rather be.”

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