The Paterson Education Association (PEA) hosted a candidate forum on Monday afternoon for two slates of candidates struggling to capture the union’s presidency, but only one group attended.
Napier Academy teacher Javier Fresse’s team came out in full force during the forum moderated by Passaic County clerk Kristin Corrado. Fresse’s team outlined their plan for the union during a dozen or so questions that were sent in by union members and asked by Corrado.
He said his team intends to take a tougher stance against the district when it comes to grievances. Fresse said too many grievances are being denied. “We need to act stronger and [have] enforcement of the unfair labor act.”
Gene Tortoriello, who is running as 3rd vice-president on Fresse’s slate, said some of the grievances being blocked are flagrant contract violations that warrants a stronger response from the union. Fresse was asked how he will expedite the grievance process, he answered saying delegates have to be better informed about settlements so that grievances that are repeats can be quickly addressed through precedence.
In another question, a teacher asked whether the candidates are satisfied with the current unpopular teachers’ contract and what they would do to avoid a similar collective bargaining agreement in the future.
“Was I pleased with the last contract? Hell no,” said Todd Pipkin, 1st Vice President in Fresse’s slate.
Fresse said he lost four years under the new contract. “It was a severe blow to me personally, I was in a slight depression,” he said. He said the union should have walked out two years after a settlement could not be reached.
“Two years at most and if not we walk out,” said Fresse highlighting what he plans to do. He said in future negotiations he intends to undo the four-year that was taken from some teachers or at least partially undo it.
Lakresha Hodge, 2nd Vice President on Fresse’s slate, said she lost $17,000 in pay as a result of the new contract.
Fresse said the union needs to plan and prepare a year ahead of the contract negotiations to avoid a similar scenario. He also said there should be new protest tactics mentioning a 50-person protest led by Ryan Cohen, corresponding secretary on his slate, during mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ inauguration that effectively cut governor Chris Christie’s trip to the city short.
“We bullied the bully,” said Cohen who independently organized the July 1st, 2014 protest.
Pipkin added the union has to spend more time lobbying state legislators.
Corrado read another question that asked whether how the union intends to address ineffective delegates. Fresse’s team said they will schedule monthly training for delegates to better inform them about contract clauses.
At present delegates seem to miss a lot of meetings, said a member of Fresse’s slate. The team said they intend to hold delegates accountable for their absences and replace them if necessary.
Fresse’s team also acknowledged that members have been kept in the dark. “None of our members knew enough,” said Fresse about the last contract deal. “That will never happen again. Hodge suggested revamping the union’s website to include a virtual copy of the contract and have portals for members and delegates. She also suggested keeping members informed through social media.
Roughly 30 union members attended the forum. It was very informative, said William Willemsen, School 27 teacher. “I thought it was pretty good. I think they gave pretty good responses,” said Sophia Moncrieffe-Simms, School 28 teacher. “I came because I wanted to hear different perspectives, but I see there’s only one team here.”
Willemsen and other teachers in attendance expressed disappointment at seeing only one team present at the forum.
Judith Richter, head of the union’s election committee, said both teams received invites to the forum, but John McEntee’s team declined.
“I don’t think that says much for the other team,” said Willemsen. “Opportunities were given to both teams.”
Moncrieffe-Simms wondered why the other team did not make an appearance. “I’m not sure why they are not here. Do you know why they are not here?” asked Moncrieffe-Simms.
McEntee said his team boycotted the forum because they were never consulted when a date was set for the forum. “We were never asked if we were available for the candidate forum,” he said.
Cohen said McEntee’s team also missed another forum that was held in April. That forum was organized by Sharrieff Bugg, who later endorsed Fresse, said McEntee. He said that forum was organized to benefit Fresse’s team.
Several meet and greets have been held with teachers, said McEntee. He said the next meet and greet by his team is being held on Thursday at the Danforth Memorial Library on Broadway from 3-5 p.m. He encouraged teachers to attend to find out about his platform.
Fresse said McEntee is hiding from his record. “He’s fearful. He’s hiding,” said Fresse. He said McEntee was part of the negotiating team for the most recent contract.
McEntee laughed at Fresse’s remarks. “The negotiating team he is refers to was disbanded. This contract was negotiated by one person: Pete Tirri,” said McEntee. “I’m disappointed he’d say something that not only is an insult to me, but it’s also a misrepresentation of the facts and he knows it because he’s on Pete Tirri’s executive board. For him to misrepresent the facts like that doesn’t say much about him.”
Tirri, outgoing president of the union, who is retiring after being at the helm for 42 years, previously said the commissioner of education was unwilling to negotiate with anyone but him which resulted in the dissolution of the negotiating team.
McEntee said he sent out a letter to supporters explaining why his team did not attend the forum. “We have little confidence, that the event will remain impartial,” read the letter.
“That PEA office doesn’t want to see the McEntee team win,” said McEntee.