With no new contract for and with negotiations seemingly stalled over three words, teachers this week began "working to rule,” meaning they come in and leave according to contract and don't do anything they're not required to do.
That has meant that some afterschool activities have been cancelled or postponed with no end in sight until the school district comes to an agreement with the teachers' union.
If the talks continue at a stalemate, it could also affect the Strawberry Festivals, because those take a lot of extra-curricular time in planning and preparation that the teachers do not get paid for, said Schools Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield.
At the last Millburn Board of Education Meeting, Board Member Mark Zucker, who is leading the negotiations with the union, told the public that they are “three words away from an agreement.”
“Those are three very important words,” he said, adding he felt an agreement could be reached soon.
Crisfield said that both sides are working to find three other words that everyone can agree on.
“But we’re working on it, as we speak,” he said Friday morning. “Hopefully, we’ll come up with something acceptable. In the meantime both sides try to remain civil and professional and carry on the best that we can.”
MEA Representative Lois Infanger said, "We are continuing to negotiate in good faith with the BOE. The staff will "work to rule" and perform their professional responsibilities."
Several parents, who did not want to be identified, voiced concerns about the length of time these negotiations are taking and how a “work to rule” will affect the students.
Already, they said, a faculty student basketball game has been postponed and several clubs have not met this week after school. There are events coming up that teachers usually attend, like the art shows and the Strawberry Festivals, that they don't get paid for.
And for older students, teachers often write letters of recommendations on their own time, but the assumption is they won’t be able to do that as they go forward without a new contract. Millburn teachers have long put in extra hours they don't get paid for because of their dedication to the students, all sides agree.
At the last school board meeting several parents praised the teachers for all they do and asked the school board to work hard to come to an agreement and put this behind them.
“Parents are getting upset,” said one parent. “I feel like the teachers are upping the ante with the work-to-rule. I just fear if it goes on too long, it will negatively impact the students.”
The sticking point in the contract has been health insurance and how the Board of Education unilaterally changed the teachers’ health insurance without negotiating it with the union.
Crisfield said it is the teachers' right to do work to rule and that both sides continue to work toward an agreement.
“It is accurate to say that the longer this goes on, the more frustration sets in on both sides,” Crisfield said. “But this is no different than any collective bargaining. There are laws in place to protect workers and there’s an existing agreement. Many teachers go above and beyond every day and for now, they are choosing not to do that until an agreement is reached.”