Nearly 300 retired leaders and members packed the Nottingham Ballroom in Hamilton last month for the annual NJREA fall meeting. All were there to learn more about the School Employees’ Health Benefits Plan Design Committee’s (SEHBP) decision to make some changes and improved benefits offerings to retirees.
NJREA President Judy Perkins kicked off the meeting by welcoming attendees and then asked Delegate Council members for approval of the agenda with flexibility to accommodate the volume of information to be discussed at the meeting. Perkins then turned the program over to her fellow officers to provide updates on upcoming events and current NJREA standings.
First Vice President Walt Krichling provided a membership update, noting that current membership stands at just under 25,000 annual and lifetime members.
In her report, Second Vice President Joan Wright thanked the Program Planning Committee members for their hard work and encouraged attendees to take advantage of all the opportunities the annual NJREA Convention, held again this year at the Resorts Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, offers NJREA members.
Ginger Gold Schnitzer, director of NJEA Government Relations, spoke on political issues and provide retirees with a humorous look at how values and priorities change as you age.
“Before I turned 50, I used to worry about daycare, now I think about Medicare” joked Gold Schnitzer. “In all seriousness, though, I always knew that elections mattered, but I didn’t realize how much they would affect me until I got older. “
Gold Schnitzer talked about the NJEA PAC recommended and NEA endorsed candidates for the House of Representatives before turning to a more serious discussion about the NJEA endorsement of Sen. Bob Menendez. She spoke passionately about the senator’s commitment to public education and its employees, as well as his drive to support the middle class.
“In this election, we can re-elect a senator who shares our values and stands with us on our top priorities,” Gold Schnitzer declared. “The bottom line: Sen. Menendez is that guy.”
Perkins then introduced Patrick Manahan, regional director of NJEA South, who informed retirees on NJEA’s newest statewide initiative to seek legislation to provide Chapter 78 relief for all public school employees and separate legislation that curbs privatization and offers just cause protections for educational support professionals (ESPs).
“We have watched as union members all over the country—Arizona, West Virginia, and Colorado, to name a few—stood up and made their voices heard,” Manahan said. “It wasn’t union leaders who made the difference, it was the members. That’s what we need to do in New Jersey.”
Perkins then introduced NJEA Assistant Executive Director Steve Swetsky and Kevin Kelleher, NJEA’s director of Research, who discussed the reasons for the SEHBP Design Committee’s negotiations with Gov. Murphy that resulted in a move from the Horizon Medicare NJ Direct 10 to the Aetna Educators Medicare 10. This change will take effect on January 1, 2019.
Kelleher spoke at length about the rumors surrounding the switch, assuring all that there is no decrease in coverage and pointed out that, in some areas, retirees’ benefits are now enhanced.
“There are no changes in the level of benefits retirees’ receive in their medical and prescription coverage, and there are benefits that have been added that actually enhance the benefits retirees receive,” Kelleher stated. “This new plan offers you the opportunity to take advantage of more doctors who are in-network, as well as participate in NJWELL and get reimbursements on co-pays.”
Kelleher stressed the importance of understanding that there will be just one ID card to use, instead of showing both proof of supplemental insurance and enrollment in Medicare. He then referred attendees to a retiree-focused FAQ sheet about the switch, which clearly explained the next steps and provide NJREA members with accurate information about their benefits coverage. This document is available by visiting the NJREA webpage at njea.org/njrea and will also be distributed at the annual NJREA Convention this month.
After lunch, NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty—who also serves as NJEA liaison to NJREA—spoke of the strides that educators have made over the years, noting the growth in salaries since the passage of the Collective Bargaining Law fifty years ago as an example. Beatty then reminded the retirees that the NJEA/NJREA is one of the most powerful organizations in the state and challenged its members to use this power to restore respect for New Jersey’s public school employees, their work and their unions.
“Make no mistake, unions are not disappearing. In fact, they are experiencing a Renaissance movement,” Beatty said. “We are experiencing a renewal as well, and we are the people with the power and courage to stand up to right the wrongs and rectify injustice.”
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