Union leader cleared of tenure charges

Arbitrator dismisses suspension, concludes filing unwarranted

Paterson Education Association (PEA) President John McEntee, Jr. has been vindicated in his battle with school district officials over his behavior while advocating for his union colleagues.

On December 27, Commissioner of Education-appointed arbitrator James Mastriani dismissed the Paterson school district’s request to justify placing McEntee on an unpaid suspended leave last April, and concluded the district was unwarranted in proceeding with tenure charges after a contentious December 2016 grievance meeting between McEntee and former district administrator Dr. Sharon Davis, where the district administration alleged that McEntee acted unprofessionally..

The district followed that allegation with tenure charges in March with two counts of conduct unbecoming. The charges did not seek a revocation of McEntee’s tenure or his dismissal, but rather his suspension, leading many to believe its motive was to intimidate the local leader and anyone who dared to stand up to administration.

“I am pleased that the arbitrator found that my comments and actions towards Ms. Davis in this meeting occurred under the umbrella of protected activity as union president and were not insubordinate, threatening, nor harassing in nature,” McEntee stated. “More importantly, I hope my exoneration will be viewed as evidence that PEA members and building representatives never should be afraid of standing up to those in authority and fight for our rights under the contract.”

Since becoming president in 2015, McEntee has been an outspoken advocate for his members and frequent critic of the district’s leadership, specifically former state-appointed Superintendent Donnie Evans, who, like Davis, left the district shortly after the charges were filed against McEntee. In September 2016, McEntee spearheaded a vote of no confidence against Evans, citing cuts in security guards and nurses, and memorably embarrassed the administrator by publicizing Evans’ role as an instrument of the state government to undermine Abbott v. Burke, which assures adequate funding for schools like Paterson.

In a move that can only be described as an attempt to drive a wedge between PEA members and their leader, Evans sent a memo to all staff on March 29, detailing the charges and presenting a one-sided view of the incident. His attempts backfired, as union members from around the state rallied in support of McEntee and decried the administrator’s action.

“I am passionate about what I do and advocating for the students, staff and community of Paterson,” McEntee continued.  “I am pleased to see that the arbitrator saw through the district’s obvious attempt at trying to paint my actions as intimidating and suggest that any local leaders who stand up for what’s right are nothing more than union thugs.”

NJEA President Marie Blistan lauded McEntee’s bravery throughout the ordeal and viewed the arbitrator’s decision as validation of the importance of protected union advocacy.

“I applaud Paterson Education Association President John McEntee for standing up and winning this very important case. John’s fight wasn’t just for himself:  It was for the right of every union leader to be a fearless advocate even in the face of hostility,” Blistan said. “It took courage and determination to keep fighting with so much on the line for him personally.”

McEntee sees this decision as an opportunity to restore respect for the union’s role protecting the middle class, specifically in New Jersey’s public schools.

“Make no mistake:  This was nothing more than an expensive fishing expedition to see if it’s possible to silence the voices and shackle the actions of those who dare to challenge the ongoing and universal fight to erode our country’s unions,” McEntee declared.  “This is not just a win for the Paterson Education Association; this is a decisive victory for our colleagues throughout the state.”

Blistan agrees.

“By refusing to settle and instead standing on principle, John helped ensure that other union leaders can do their jobs as well. John and every PEA member deserve to celebrate this win, and we celebrate with them.”

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