For years, the Lakewood Education Association (LEA) has championed its members and fought for their students under challenging circumstances. Thanks to their determination and hard work, they were able to secure a five-year agreement with salary increases averaging 21.9% for certified employees and 22.4% for support staff. They negotiated a starting salary of more than $60,000 in their fourth year, an increase of more than $9,000 in the district’s starting salary. For this they were awarded the NJEA Jim George Collective Bargaining Award 2022.
LEA President Kimberlee Shaw and Members Kathy Hall and Lisa Moody-Anderson accepted the award on behalf of the negotiating team and the entire association.
LEA has made improving the relationship between the Association, the Administration and the Board of Education a priority while continuing to demonstrate that LEA is a force worthy of respect.
Before beginning the collective bargaining process, LEA filed more than 20 Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) files and 10 complaints.
At the same time, the association reached out to community members and worked with them to address their issues, both in schools and in the community. At the virtual board meetings, community members expressed concern about staffing shortages and the number of substitutes deployed. They also advocated an increase in employee salaries. The association kept meticulous records of the number of employees who left the district.
Their efforts were so successful that the salary increase agreement states: “For the purpose of hiring and retaining employees, as well as reducing the steps in salary guidelines.”
Organization around the concerns of the community
The association took actions unrelated to the schools to show their connection to the community. They worked with community stakeholders to improve the flow of communication with the public on monthly vaccination sites, rent increases for local tenants, and other issues.
The association said the school district’s staffing shortage was due to the district’s inability to retain staff over the long term and attract new staff to replace those who left. Community stakeholders who attended Zoom meetings hosted by a local civil rights activist included City Council members, local religious leaders, local business owners, the Police Commissioner, American Legion Post 166, Latino Action Network, Community Services Corporation, and New Labor Voz Latina.
LEA has also enlisted NJEA employees from multiple departments to join them to engage with community stakeholders in Zoom meetings hosted by the Office of the Governor.
Building a stronger union
These community connections and member organizing reinvigorated the culture of their union and resulted in five new construction representatives, one new senior construction representative, nine new members of the negotiation team, and two new members of the NJEA Network Members of Color (MOC), one of whom is a working member on forming a local Lakewood MOC committee.
Following ratification, LEA continues to push the administration and board to change the climate in the community and schools. They have forced the Board to engage in both the NJEA Labor Management Cooperation and the NJEA Labor Management Pilot program with a shared vision to improve district morale. This relationship continues to trend in a positive direction as the LEA remains unyielding in its unwavering advocacy for its members and students.
Jim George Collective Bargaining Award Finalists
The NJEA Jim George Collective Bargaining Award is presented annually to an association that has achieved one or more of the following goals:
- Negotiated one or more new contract terms that are not already in another partner’s contract.
- Executed an extraordinary organizing effort in the community that resulted in a contract settlement.
- Used the negotiation experience to bring new members into association participations and management positions.
- Achieved particularly good compensation for pay rises, healthcare benefits, professional development, and/or membership protection compared to the state average.
This year, after reviewing the nominations, five finalists were selected. They are:
- Atlantic County Special Services Bus Drivers/Aides Association
- Cumberland Regional Paraprofessional Association
- Lakewood Educational Association
- Paterson Charter Education Association
- South Orange-Maplewood Education Association
Who Was Jim George?
Jim George was a driving force in NJEA’s quest for collective bargaining rights for public school employees. His long association with NJEA began when he was a teacher and union leader in Cinnaminson. An activist at heart, he served the Cinnaminson Teachers’ Association as treasurer and then as local president.
At the forefront of the fight for members’ rights, George is best known for his rousing remarks at the 1967 Asbury Park Rally for Teachers’ Rights. It was then that George spoke the words that would become the inspiration for NJEA’s collective bargaining summit: “A new order is upon us. A new generation has been conceived – and we are not afraid.”
George joined the NJEA UniServ staff in 1967 and served members in Burlington County until 1986 when he became the UniServ coordinator serving the southern portion of the state. For 28 years, before his untimely death in 1995, George inspired NJEA members, leaders and staff. It was George who first suggested that the NJEA hold a collective bargaining summit to strengthen the association’s commitment to collective bargaining. His legacy lives on through the summit and award that bears his name.