On the evening of Feb. 28 in Hackensack, nearly 250 members of the Hackensack Education Association (HEA) attended a “Meet the Mediator” rally to show support for their negotiations team, which has been at the bargaining table since January 2012. They were accompanied by concerned members of the community, including parents, students, and members of the other bargaining units of the Hackensack school district, such as administrators, custodians, and secretaries.
Marchers carried “Settle Now” signs and marched around the Padovano Education Center for nearly an hour until the mediation session began. When asked why she was marching, one parent expressed her concern about the upcoming budget vote and the apparent deterioration of what had always been a healthy working relationship between the teachers and the board of education. This sentiment, along with frustration and disappointment, was echoed by many others during the march.
The HEA negotiations team, headed by chief negotiator Lou Ferrante and NJEA UniServ field rep Norm Danzig, met with the Hackensack Board of Education and a state appointed mediator for the third time to try to draw the ongoing negotiations to a close. Typically, the mediation phase of negotiations begins when one or both sides declare impasse based on their inability to come to agreement on issues that have been brought to the table. The HEA and the school board had met 12 times before their first meeting with the mediator.
Last night’s meeting was their last chance to settle before moving to the next phase of negotiations, called fact-finding. Because no settlement was reached, another state-appointed mediator will be assigned to mediate and then, if needed, conduct a fact-finding arbitration. The HEA contract expired in June 2012.