Following an intensive lobbying effort by NJEA members who sent over 1,500 emails and showed up in Trenton today with NJEA leaders and staff to speak to senators directly, Senate President Steve Sweeney cancelled a scheduled vote on S-979. That bill contained language that would have infringed on NJEA members’ collective bargaining rights.
S-979 would have required married individuals who are eligible for health benefits coverage from two public employees to select coverage together under only one plan or program or each have their own plan, regardless of whether the benefits are in a state plan or a private insurer. Additionally, this bill would have limited compensation for waiving health benefits due to other coverage (a waiver) for all employees, not just those in one of the state plans, and those waivers would be limited to the lesser of 25 percent or $5,000.
Such waivers and associated compensation are typically subject to collective bargaining, not legislation.
Apparently unable to garner sufficient support from other Democratic senators to ensure its passage, Sweeney pulled the bill earlier this afternoon. After a meeting with NJEA staff, the bill’s sponsors were reportedly considering amendments to the bill to remove the harmful anti-collective bargaining language.
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer thanked members for their advocacy. “Because of our members, every Senator understood exactly what was at stake in this legislation. We did what we do best: we educated people. And once they understood what was in the bill, they knew they couldn’t support it as written.”
NJEA Vice President Marie Blistan, who joined Steinhauer and other members lobbying senators this morning, called it an important victory. “This was a victory for our values,” Blistan said. “The Legislature shouldn’t dictate what happens at the bargaining table, but that’s what this legislation would have done. I’m pleased that so many senators had the integrity to stand up for that fundamental principle today.”
While no new language has been released yet, NJEA will continue to monitor the legislation to ensure that no future version infringes on collective bargaining.