The teachers were very un-collaborative in their approach towards the negotiation and seemed quite unwilling to bend in their resolve not to accept the proposal offered by the board of Education. The teachers basically attempted to force the hand of the board by deciding to go on a strike. Considering that the area had only recently suffered from the effects of the September 11 strike on the Twin Towers and that there was some amount of adjusting to be done, the teachers seem to have manipulated the situation in order to achieve their objectives.
The strike commenced only a few hours after the end of an agreed moratorium period according to Hanley (2001a). This is suggesting that little or inadequate attempt was made to pursue peaceful negotiations prior to decide to enter into an industrial strike. Furthermore the teachers made no attempt to relent or relax their position but were willing, even under punishment of imprisonment, to hold firm to their original position without any or little adjustments or compromise. The board wanted to increase the teachers’ maximum contributions to the health insurance scheme from $250 to $860 (Hanley & Jacobs, 2001). The teachers were adamant in refusing any sort of increasing wanting the figure to remain as was.
So determined was their resolve that at the time of the unsuccessful conclusion of the negotiations 225 teachers, secretaries and other union members had being jailed because of their refusal to obey the court order to return to work (Hanley, 2001c). Had the union leaders not decided on the 29th of November to instruct its members to obey the court order to return to work, the impasse would have probably continued with even more teachers being jailed.
The union however, seemed at one point willing to relax the teachers’ position on the issue of the proposed increase in teachers’ contributions to the health fund. The teachers relaxed their positions partially when they agreed to a set of settlement recommendations proposed by the mediators which would have seen them compromising their position significantly. However the position of the board was even more adamant and thus no solution was arrived on the issue.
The teachers attempted to justify their rejection of the proposal put forward to them. The proposal put forward by the board sought to increase maximum payments by about thirty per cent in one instant. This amount appears to be very unreasonable. Of course the board could not accept the teachers’ proposition that the fees stay as they were before. In their opinion, payments for teachers’ health benefits was costing the district much too much, approximately $8 million (Hanley & Jacobs, 2001). On the extreme though the proposed level of increase in itself appeared exorbitant and too great a percentage increase.
Additionally the teachers felt that their proposal was a lot more reasonable. They suggested helping the board to cut costs by no longer requiring reimbursements on prescriptions (Hanley, 2001b). This proposal would lead to saving on the part of the board and would also ensure that the teachers do not have to pay increased premiums. This alternative seems like a very feasible position but the board was not willing to negotiate on this issue.
On the 29th of November the teachers were instructed by their union leaders to return to work even though the negotiations had not concluded and there was no decision on the issue. It would seem in this regard that the teachers were the ones to have lost because, aside from being imprisoned for a few days, they have to suffer the embarrassment of returning to work without their original demands being met.
It would therefore seem that the teachers did not carry out the negotiations as best as they could since they did not end up reaching a reasonable solution. A number of factors could have contributed to this failure suggesting of course, that the teachers erred in a few areas. First the teachers did not choose an appropriate time to commence the industrial strike. While, in their view the matter seemed to be urgent, they did not consider the psychological environment at the time. The area had only recently been affected by the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Centers. The district was still recovering from the effects of this national disaster and therefore it was not appropriate for the teachers to strike at this particular time.
In addition the teachers did not garner enough support from the community. Hanley & Jacobs (2001) point out that “it was hard to find support for the teachers among Middletown residents.” The members of the community were upset that the teachers chose such an inappropriate time to strike. They were also concerned about the welfare of the students who would be without instruction until the issue was resolved.
Probably a meeting with the parents of students prior to going on a strike could have explained the seriousness of the teachers’ position to them and asked for support. In addition many parents did not agree that in that economic climate that the proposed increase was as terrible as the teachers were making it out to be. The fact that there was not widespread support for the teachers’ strike may have pushed the union to demand its teachers back in the classroom even though negotiations were not finalized.
Finally the teachers themselves seemed not to have entered the negotiation with a correct mindset. They seemed only to be heading for a win/win decision and were not willing to lose not even a little bit. The option they proposed to the board, though it sounded reasonable, did not see them compromising as significantly as they expected the board to compromise to meet their demands. The teachers were unwilling to collaborate effectively to come to a decision feasible and acceptable to both sides.
Hanley, R. (2001a, Nov 30). Abrupt Walkout by Teachers Closes Schools in Middletown, N.J. The New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)), D5.
Hanley, R. (2001b, Dec 4). New Jersey Teachers Jailed for Continuing to Strike. The New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)), D1.
Hanley, R. (2001c, Dec 8). In Middletown, A Strike Ends Without a Deal For Teachers. The New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)), D1.
Hanley, R. & Jacobs, A. (2001, Dec 6). Teachers’ Strike Grows Angrier, But Support of Residents Is Elusive. The New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)), D1.