The 2019-20 school year is starting off much like last year, with a laser focus on Ch. 78 relief and job justice for educational support professionals (ESP). But there is one major difference: this September, because of the tireless work of thousands of NJEA members, those efforts are much further along—and much closer to ultimate success.
The numbers tell the story of our members’ impressive efforts: at the beginning of last school year, our Ch. 78 bill had only one sponsor in the Senate and one in the Assembly. Today, we have 10 and 39, respectively.
The ESP Job Justice bills also had only a small handful of sponsors in both houses a year ago. But after relentless member lobbying, those bills passed the Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan support on May 23. In the Senate, those bills have 17 and 18 sponsors, respectively; nearly enough to ensure their passage based on sponsors alone, if they are posted for a vote.
So, what prompted so many legislators to step up and declare their support for our top priorities? In a word: you! NJEA members held hundreds of meetings with legislators across the state, explaining the need for those bills and making the case that “We Are Worth It!” Those legislators who refused to meet or listen heard from members in other ways: during protests outside their offices, at lobby says in the Statehouse and in thousands of post cards, petition signatures, phone calls and emails. It is safe to say that there is not a single New Jersey lawmaker who does not know where our members stand.
Combined with a statewide TV and online campaign to raise public awareness of these issues, we have reshaped the conversation in Trenton. This year, we need to build on that momentum to finish the job and achieve the Ch. 78 relief and Job Justice that NJEA members deserve.
There have been promising signs of progress over the summer. As the result of extensive conversations with key legislators, including Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, the outlines of a very promising Ch. 78 solution have begun to emerge. While not yet introduced as formal legislation as of press time for the NJEA Review, the proposed agreement would provide significant reductions in health care costs for members. More importantly, it would tie those premiums to a percentage of salary, not a percentage of premium. That means members would no longer be subject to contributions that can rise faster than salaries and leave too many taking home less net pay year after year.
The proposed solution would also provide savings for the state and local employers, making it much more appealing to lawmakers and much harder to reject at a time when everyone is concerned about rising health care costs.
How significant is this development? Significant enough that the NJEA PAC Operating Committee meeting scheduled for early August to consider endorsements for the upcoming election cycle was delayed until late August, after the Review went to print, to ensure that legislators would have a chance to take a stand on this proposed bill before members decided whom to endorse.
You can find the results of that PAC meeting, as well as the latest updates on the Ch. 78 and ESP Job Justice campaign, at njea.org. You can also find out how you can get involved and help your 200,000 fellow NJEA members achieve these important wins.