The members of the Egg Harbor Township Education Association (EHETA), which represents 1,075 teachers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, and custodial and maintenance staff, know how to go the distance. In 2014, more than a year after their contact expired, the association culminated a multiyear effort that included wearing buttons and T-shirts, handing out informational fliers, working to the contract, packing board meetings and opening a crisis office, before finally settling their contract in superconciliation.
But perhaps the most innovative action they took was when the association hired a plane to fly over graduation with a banner congratulating the graduating seniors—and drowning out the speech of the superintendent at the time.
Just after the contract was finally settled in 2014, elections were held and several board members left. The change in the board ultimately led the district to bring back Fred Nickels, a former superintendent who had also taught in the district, worked in other administrative positions, served as a volunteer firefighter in Egg Harbor Township, and held elected office as a freeholder and assemblyman in Atlantic County.
As a result of the association’s strong, tireless action in 2013 and 2014, they were able to settle their contract in three meetings when the contract expired in 2016. Both the board and the association wanted to avoid a repetition of the previous contract’s contentious bargaining.
The new contract includes language that pays for American Speech-Language-Hearing Association certification for speech therapists, a better summer hour schedule for support staff, custodial language that includes a paid lunch break, an increase in bereavement days, a better child-rearing leave policy, and a new snow removal procedure for custodians and groundskeepers.
The salary settlement provides a 4 percent raise for the certificated members’ salary guide and a 6 percent raise for the secretaries and paraprofessionals’ salary guide in each year of the contract.
“My advice to new presidents is that they should focus on building relationships with administrators and board members,” said EHTEA President Kathy Waszen. “You build that relationship by getting to know them and letting them know you and by showing
you appreciate the good work they do. I frequently stand up at board meetings to point out the great things that are going on in the district and thanking the administration and board for working with us.”
Egg Harbor Township is one of the municipalities in Atlantic County that have been the hardest hit by the closure of several Atlantic City casinos and the subsequent economic impact. Nonetheless, they were able to settle a fair contract in a timely manner by focusing on the best interests of students and the community.
Sometimes, prolonged action can drain a local association. But for the members of the EHTEA, it energized them and set the stage for one of the fastest bargaining cycles the association has ever experienced and a new era of respect and collaboration with district administration and the board of education.