‘While we are distracted by the buildings, let’s not forget about the people in it’

Members of the Haddonfield Education Association filled the HMHS library on Thursday, Sept. 14 to discuss bringing ongoing contract negotiations to an end.

At precisely 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14, members of the Haddonfield Education Association, clad in black, arrived to the Board of Education work session filling the Haddonfield Memorial High School’s library. Representatives from the HEA came to ask the board to help them bring ongoing contract negotiations to an end.

The HEA’s contract expired at the end of June, and on Wednesday, Sept. 13, both the board and HEA agreed to mediation.

Prior to opening the meeting up for public comments, board president Adam Sangillo began the discussion on an optimistic note saying that he looked at the joint decision to seek a mediator not as an impasse but as “a reach for help.” He said the goal is to come to a fair and quick resolution.

“We don’t negotiate in public, but we do sort of talk about the tenor of how things are going,” Sangillo said. “The tenor and the communication has been very positive in our meetings. We feel like we’ve come a long way. We’ve made concessions, and we feel we’re having a good dialogue.”

Jamie Vermaat, past co-president and current head contract negotiator for the HEA, said never in her 12 years working in the district have the board and the HEA settled a contract before it expired.

“After nine negotiation sessions, after three subcommittee meetings, countless hours planning proposals and analyzing data and working 76 days with an expired contract, we decided last night that it would be best to file for impasse,” Vermaat said.

Vermaat said she filed for the HEA’s customary data request pertaining to staff salaries, health benefits, stipends, reimbusements and budgets last October. She said customarily, this data should be returned in six to eight weeks, so that negotiations can begin in early December. However, the HEA did not receive the data this year until early March.

She said the HEA reviewed the data and sent back its initial analysis to the board to account for what it saw as discrepancies, which were later resolved. She said in mid-April they set up their first negotiation date months later than when they should have started.

“The exaggerated timeline in our view is irresponsible, and it’s also unfair to our members,” Vermaat said. “I assure you that we have been following the routine procedure for requesting data. We have been sincere in our efforts to work with the board, and the association has been generously patient waiting for our requests to be met all while trying to do what’s best for our 300 members.”

Vermaat said now that both parties have agreed to file for impasse, the HEA’s hope is a mediator will provide some guidance.

William Usher, co-president of the HEA, emphasized the need for respect during the negotiation process.

“We need to maintain our culture,” Usher said. “Our culture is one of respect. It’s one of caring.”

Usher said while teaching is a passion for members of the HEA, it is also a job that pays the bills, sets their children up for their futures and sets them up for retirement. He said he understands the board has their constraints, but members of the HEA also have to take care of themselves and their families.

Vermaat said HEA members should not have to begin the year with the stress of laboring under an expired contract in addition to “the chaos of construction.”

“While we are distracted by the buildings, let’s not forget about the people in it,” Vermaat said.

Sangillo said he appreciated members of the HEA coming out to have their voices heard.

“Negotiations in some ways pits us against each other, but that’s not how the board feels. We feel like teammates working toward the same goal,” Sangillo said. “You being here, I think it’s a great sign of commitment to getting a good contract, and we’re looking forward to making that happen as well.”

The next Board of Education meeting will take place on Thursday, Sept. 28 in the HMHS library.