Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Aberdeener Grievance

For the past six months, the Matawan Regional Teachers Association (MRTA) leadership has been spreading a rumor that they filed a grievance against me. The implication was that not only were they fighting back but that I must be guilty of something.

The truth is the MRTA filed an unfair labor practice against the school board in a shameless attempt to silence me. Either they were too cowardly to charge me with a violation or they knew they had no case and I would respond vigorously.

The union must have believed they could file this baseless charge without repercussions since they were free to quietly smear me and threaten the school district with costly legal fees while keeping confidential the actual complaint since grievances are normally exempt from OPRA.

But they were wrong.

New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act excludes “Any grievance filed by or against an employee”. However, the MRTA’s grievance doesn’t list a single employee, position, staff duty, compensation, or contractual obligation as a subject of the complaint; the grievance is solely by and for the union’s organization and doesn’t fall within the exemption.

I kept the grievance sequestered at first because of litigation and later because of the media blackout during negotiations. However, the grievance has since been withdrawn and there is no media blackout due to the union’s declaration of an impasse.

So, here it is, the Aberdeener Grievance.

Before I respond point-by-point, allow me to provide a quick summary. The MRTA’s legal position is that school board members are not allowed to criticize the teachers union or its leadership. Furthermore, the MRTA argues, the school board has an affirmative obligation to monitor its members’ speech and repudiate any critical comments. For relief, the MRTA requested the school board ask me to shut my mouth or resign.

The case’s wanton silliness is demonstrated by the fact that even if the MRTA won this unprecedented legal argument and got all the relief it requested, I would still have been allowed to retain my board seat and continue writing on my blog exactly as I had before the complaint; nowhere did the union request an order for me to cease and desist. So, even the teachers union implicitly concedes I acted within my rights.

What makes the charge truly ironic is the MRTA alleges the school board violated N.J.S.A. 34:13A, which forbids “Interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed to them by this act [or] . . . Dominating or interfering with the formation, existence or administration of any employee organization.”

That same statute also states “Employee organizations, their representatives or agents are prohibited from interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed to them by this act.”

That must be news to the MRTA because the union openly and regularly interferes, restrains, and coerces employees in the exercise of their rights. To give just one example, here is an open letter from the MRTA to the district staff instructing them to “not apply for extra curricular positions that are currently being filled by our members.” That same letter further states “If you have concerns regarding fellow workers and their job performance, don’t go to an administrator.” In other words, the union will choose who gets the stipends and the union will handle all personnel complaints. Or else.

We also need to question the MRTA’s priorities. The union wouldn’t contribute one penny towards saving three longtime members’ lifetime health benefits but was prepared to spend thousands in legal fees for a baseless claim in hopes of garnering a public reprimand against a local blog.

So, without further ado, here is the Aberdeener Grievance. My responses are in red-italics.

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Teachers Association is the recognized majority representative for, among other professional and support staff titles, all non-supervisory certificated teaching staff members employed within the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Board of Education.

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Board of Education is a public employer within the meaning of the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act and is subject to the Act's provisions.

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Board of Education (hereinafter the "Board") and the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Teachers Association (hereinafter the "Association") are parties to a collective negotiations agreement covering the time period between July 1,2007 through June 30,2010. The parties are presently negotiating a successor collective negotiations agreement.

Joseph Warren (hereinafter "Warren") is a member of the Board of Education and has been a member of the Board since approximately April, 2009.

Board member Warren maintains a blog; i.e. the Aberdeener, that this Board member has used, in part, to both criticize the leadership of the Association and to attempt to negotiate a successor contract by his efforts to convince teaching staff members and support staff represented by the Association to repudiate the contract proposals regarding contract negotiations that have been submitted by the Association's Negotiations Team.

The following are summaries of only some of the many blog entries of Board member Warren that have been critical of the Association's leadership and that have also divulged confidential contract negotiation positions of the Association to members of the public:
What follows is the MRTA’s strongest evidence that the school board, not I, acted illegally.

Board member Warren called the Association's Union President Carl Kosmyna a liar and referred to the Association's "ludicrous claim" that the Association had offered a pay freeze and that this proposal was rejected by the Board of Education. (April 12, 2010 blog entry).
I have never called Kosmyna a liar. Nor have I ever claimed he isn’t. As for the “ludicrous claim” comment, I’m happy to see the MRTA finally acknowledge they did make this ludicrous claim of having offered the school board a pay freeze.

Board member Warren referred to the Leadership of the Association as "rodeo clowns" and referred to the Association's responses to threatened layoffs as being representative of the Association's "latest antics and utter incompetence". (March 25, 2010 blog entry).
I proudly stand by my comments.

Board member Warren stated, in part, that "the Union has orchestrated political theatre from heckling Board members at a public meeting to frightening the community into believing the District will replace our beloved custodians with pedophiles". (March 25, 2010 blog entry).
I sure did say that. Remember those school board meetings or the fliers warning parents the school board was endangering their children?

Board member Warren maintained that "the Union has not offered any concessions or suggestions on how to cut costs and save jobs" and maintained that "Union Officers receive full pay for reduced work load to permit extra time for Union activities". He also stated that "the Union has filed a slew of grievances demanding extra pay which, if victorious, will result in more job losses". (March 25,2010 blog entry).
Once again, I said it and it’s all true.

Board member Warren, in continuing his vituperative and defamatory charges against the Association Leadership, concluded one of his blog entries with the following statement: As every rodeo clown knows, you can distract the bull, deceive the bull, and avoid the bull, but stick around too long and you will get trampled. The Union leadership can no longer distract, deceive or avoid the public or its membership. (March 25,2010 blog entry).
Yeah, that rodeo clown comment really stuck them. I guess the truth hurts.

Board member Warren published the salaries of Union Executive Board members over the past four years and attacked the negotiating of what Board Warren referred to as "a bewildering array of stipends", while he consciously omitted the fact that the salaries he reported in the blog included coaching salaries and other negotiated stipends.
So, let’s see. I claimed the staff received a “bewildering array of stipends” and neglected to mention they were receiving stipends. Ooooh, I’m so bad.

By the way, district salaries are public information.

To date, the Board of Education has taken no action to prohibit Board member Warren from his malicious attempts to replace the existing association leadership and to coerce the Association into contract concessions by disseminating misrepresentations about the terms and conditions of employment of Association teaching staff members and support staff. The Board therefore has supported the efforts of Board member Warren to dominate and/or interfere with the existence and administration of the Association in violation of N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.4(a)(2).
Here’s that legal ninjitsu – by doing nothing, the board was illegally interfering in the union’s business. Also, notice how it was perfectly acceptable for the teachers union to picket in front of former board member Ken Aitken’s house and spend thousands of dollars to prevent his reelection but my personal comments against the MRTA leadership is “malicious”.

The actions of the Board in refusing to repudiate the statements of one of its Board members, Joseph Warren, has also engaged in actions designed to interfere with, coerce and restrain employees represented by the Association in violation of N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.4(a)(l).
More legal ninjitsu. Doing nothing constitutes “actions designed to interfere with, coerce and restrain employees”. Is that like teachers who do nothing are still considered to be teaching?

WHEREFORE, the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Teachers Association seeks an Order from the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission:

(A) Finding and declaring that the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional Board of education has violated the of N.J.S.A. 34: 13~-5.4(a)(l) and N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.4(a)(2);
I.e., by doing nothing, the school board has coerced and restrained employees.

(B) Finding and declaring that the actions of individual Board member Joseph Warren, as supported by at least the majority of the Board of Education, represents efforts to illegally dominate and/or interfere with the existence and administration of the Teachers Association;
Since Joseph Warren, acting by himself, constitutes a majority of the board, of course.

(C) Finding and declaring that the Board has acted to interfere with, restrain and coerce employees represented by the Association in the exercise of rights protected by the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act;

(D) Requiring the Board of Education to repudiate in writing all of Board member Warren's defamatory & hominem attacks on the Association's leadership and his consistent misrepresentations about the content of and status of contract negotiations and pending Association grievances;
How childish. Should the school board have also given me a timeout and taken away my circle time?

(E)Requiring the Board of Education to advise Board member Joseph Warren to cease and desist from including any comments in his blog, the Aberdeener, that relate to ongoing contract negotiations issues and other personnel and labor relations matters involving the Association and the Board or, in the alternative, request that Warren resign as a Board of Education member;
Should the state also require the school board to say pretty please?

(F)Requiring the posting of appropriate Notices to Public Employees advising said employees of the Board's illegal conduct;
Why stop there? Let’s have a mass mailing to the entire district. The cover page would say the “Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, without commenting upon the truth or accuracy of Mr. Warren's statements, repudiates all of the following” and then staple it to a copy of all the offensive blog articles.

(G) For such other and further relief as the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission deems to be appropriate under the circumstances.
Like ice cream for all the union leaders whose feelings were hurt.

Teachers, welcome to your union representatives. I hope the rodeo is worth your money and your colleagues’ livelihoods.
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rodeo Clowns Gone Wild

Ever wonder what our teachers' union leaders say when uncensored, unguarded, and unplugged? These videos of a New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) leadership conference at the East Brunswick Hilton hotel (supported by union dues from the Matawan Regional Teachers Association) offer a glimpse.

But beware, viewer discretion is advised as some of the language is highly offensive.

Full disclosure: These videos were created by James O'Keefe, the same guy who brought down ACORN, and are highly edited.

NJEA Teachers Gone Wild 1
NJEA Teachers Gone Wild 2
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Know What You Did Last Winter

In honor of the Matawan Regional Teacher’s Association latest negotiation tactic, a blunder so incredibly stupid that one wonders if the union leadership should be placed on suicide watch, I’d like to dedicate the Bedroom Intruder newscast and its accompanying music video to our dear Rodeo Clowns.

As part of negotiations, the union and school board had agreed to a media blackout – neither side would make any public statements regarding negotiations – so long as neither side declared an impasse. That is why I refrained from attacking the union leadership on this blog.

Recently, the school board changed its entire negotiating team (yes, there’s a story there but I’ll save it for later in case Fearless Marty chooses to run again) and hired a new negotiating attorney. At this point, the only items successfully negotiated were the rules of negotiation and some meeting dates. Not a single contractual item was ever discussed.

So, what happened at the very first negotiations meeting with the new team and the new attorney, before anything is even negotiated? The MRTA declared an impasse.

That means the media blackout no longer exists and school board members are free to discuss negotiations or the lack thereof.

For example, the school board is free to discuss the sweetheart deal it offered the teachers union last January to save the custodial positions, an offer made before the board realized how desperate the district’s financial situation would become. Or, better yet, the ridiculous counter-offer demonstrating the union leadership cared more about themselves than their members. (And the counter-offer was made in writing should the rank and file care to see it.)

Or we could discuss the custodial negotiation session in April when the union leadership had the outsource bids in their hands. They knew the district would save over a million dollars a year from outsourcing even though the school board was only requesting half of that in concessions to save the custodial positions. Regardless, the union offer (also in writing), fell so far short that the school board voted unanimously to outsource rather than waste more time in bad-faith negotiations.

Or maybe we could discuss some of the ludicrous labor grievances that were also part of the negotiations?

Or how about the union offering the district virtually nothing to save three long-time union members from losing their lifetime health benefits.

I’m tempted to post everything online but these are the types of shots that can only be fired once, so I’m going to let this play out a bit more. Let’s see if the union attempts to intimidate board members’ children, picket at their homes, or try to frighten the community again.

I’m also tempted to see what the union membership will do. Scores of jobs are potentially at stake next year. Bus drivers, secretaries, teachers aides, child study teams, and guidance counselors can all be outsourced. Without increased funding from the state (unlikely at best), there will need to be more cuts through either outsourcing or reductions in force to cover increases in salary, healthcare, and pensions.

As for the teachers union leadership, I leave you with this quote from the Bedroom Intruder Song – “You don’t have to come and confess. We’re looking for you. We gonna find you. We gonna find you.”
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Monday, October 11, 2010

Not Dead Yet

Pleas note: This article has been updated to include Ruprecht's motion to commend Ms. Zavorskas for her service upon her resignation in March, 2009.

“Hey Marty, Sports Authority is having a sale on balls.” – Anonymous comment on March 9, 2010

Poor, Marty. He's been waiting all this time to publicly attack me but couldn't garner the courage until after I resigned the school board and left town. The Independent only partially quotes him because he mumbles through his delivery, apparently fearing me even in absentia, but he appears to complain that I had caused “dissention”.Thirty months on the school board and the only time Ruprecht ever makes a motion to amend an agenda item is to remove the following line - “The Board of Education would like to commend Mr. Warren for his service to the Matawan Aberdeen Regional School District.”

Such moral outrage is ironic coming from the unindicted co-conspirator of violations of campaign regulations, the New Jersey School Board Code of Ethics, and state law. Ironic but not surprising.

Ruprecht will probably be best remembered for his waffling on O’Malley’s contract extension. Being the critical swing vote, Ruprecht first voted to table O’Malley’s contract and, when that motion failed, voted to approve the contract. (Now Ruprecht can claim to have voted against the extension before voting for it.)

Then there was the time he tried to stage a minor coup. When Zavorskas’ seat became vacant, Ruprecht conspired to appoint an unknown during a lame duck session and thereby circumvent the board’s past practice of interviewing candidates and deny Liz Hayward and me from voting on Zavorskas’ replacement.

Or how about voting on personnel matters without disclosing who contributed to his election campaign? We know Ruprecht voted on Principal Olsen’s tenure the following April despite having solicited her.

When discussing a board goal to limit future tax increases, Ruprecht argued against setting any goals that would restrict the superintendent’s ability to set a budget that was in the district’s “best interests”, exactly the kind of thinking that lead to the school district’s out-of-control spending.

In fact, the only spending Ruprecht ever objected to were legal fees to defend a board member’s right to publish public information and criticize union leaders (a.k.a. Rodeo Clowns). Ruprecht believed the money could be better spent on school board jaunts to Atlantic City for the NJSBA’s annual convention.

Ruprecht’s philosophy is diametrically opposed to mine. I believe a school board member's job is to inform the public, set expectations and priorities, and hold the administration accountable. Ruprecht believes his job is to simply point his thumb up or down when the administration recommends an agenda item. It’s a common position for people who love to take credit when things go well and blame someone else when they go awry. It’s also why those same people never actually do anything but complain about others while throwing bouquets at themselves.

The teachers union spent about $3,000 on Ruprecht’s election campaign but not one dollar towards saving three custodial positions so those people could earn their lifetime healthcare benefits. Makes you wonder.

As for Ruprecht's claim that there's no "past practice" of commending a resigning board member, eighteen months earlier he made the motion to "commend" Ms. Zavorskas upon her resignation, using the identical language. Nice to know Ruprecht's allegiances are still intact.

Hmmm. Maybe I do cause dissension? Well, when children are being robbed of their futures and the taxpayer’s money is being squandered, causing a little dissension is the least I can do. Ruprecht can thank me later.
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