N.J. Teachers Return to Classroom After Strike
Striking teachers returned to work last week in Middletown Township, N.J., where the school board took the unusual action of firing nontenured teachers who didn't cross picket lines.
The strike by some 950 teachers and secretaries began Sept. 3--the first day of school in the 10,000-student district. It ended a week later with a five-year contract.
But before it was finally settled, the Middletown school board voted to fire five nontenured teachers and six instructional aides, according to Edward Richardson, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.
Under the terms of the new contract, those employees will now be hired back, but will have their pay frozen for two years, said Karen Kondek, the district's director of communications.
"The difficulty here is that the district announced very early on, over two years ago, I think, that if you don't come to work, you will not get paid," Ms. Kondek said.
"Nontenured teachers were particularly vulnerable because they were not covered under the contract," she added.
The settlement contains a "no reprisals" clause--standard fare for a contract reached after a strike.
The school board had resisted including one in the pact after other outstanding issues were settled, Mr. Richardson said.
He said it would have been unusual, "if not unprecedented," for the school board to agree to the terms of a settlement without a no-reprisal clause. The clause says that the district won't take any disciplinary action against tenured teachers who walked out and that teachers themselves won't harass or discriminate against school employees because of their attendance during the strike.
Teachers in the district had been working for two years under an expired contract.
The settlement, which is retroactive to July 1996, will give them pay hikes that increase progressively across the five years from 2 percent to 3.8 percent.
In addition, employees who are earning more than $30,000 will have to contribute up to $250 a year toward the cost of their health care, a change the Middletown Township Education Association had opposed.
On another sticking point, middle school teachers will now be required to teach for six periods, rather than five, of an eight-period day. Current teachers will receive a stipend of $1,650 for the work, Ms. Kondek said, but employees who start work after next July will not receive the payments.
Elsewhere, teachers were on strike last week in Vandalia and Sterling, Ill.; Berlin and Weatherly, Pa.; and Lake Stevens, Wash., according to the NEA.
Vol. 18, Issue 2, Page 3