NJEA President Marie Blistan and New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney announced a landmark agreement providing NJEA members with long-sought relief from Ch. 78 while also lowering costs for local education employers and the state at a March 9 press conference. Ch. 78, a pension and health insurance law passed in 2011, imposed unsustainable and ever-growing health care costs on educators.
The agreement includes the creation of a new health insurance plan, called the New Jersey Educators Plan, that will be offered at a much lower premium cost than most current plans available under Ch. 78. Final details of that plan were not available as of press time. Check njea.org for updates.
Additionally, that premium will be based on a percentage of salary, unlike Ch. 78 which required payment based on a percentage of the health insurance premium. TThat change will relieve members from the worry, too often borne out in recent years, that premium increases will grow more quickly than salary increases, leading to lower take-home pay year after year.
The agreement is the result of sustained and effective member organizing. NJEA members have been working on a sustained campaign to win Ch. 78 relief for nearly two years, pushing the issue to the forefront of the agenda in Trenton. As part of that campaign, NJEA members also advocated for two job justice bills that provide expanded due process and contract protection rights to New Jersey’s educational support professionals (ESPs). Blistan and Sweeney also pledged today to work together to move those bills along with Ch. 78 relief.
“This is the culmination of a very long process,” said NJEA President Marie Blistan. “It was not easy, but the work we have done together is a major victory for both our members and all the other taxpayers of New Jersey.
As of the day the NJEA Review went to press, March 13, a bill enacting the agreement was still being drafted, but with a goal to implement the agreement by July 1, the legislation is expected to move swiftly.
Once a draft of the legislation is available, NJEA leaders and staff will examine it carefully to ensure it matches the agreement struck by NJEA and Sweeney. After the resulting legislation is adopted and signed by the governor, the SEHBP Plan Design Committee will develop, consider and approve the health care plans enabled by the new law. An open enrollment period will follow for public school employees to choose among the insurance options.
As the Review went to press, the Senate introduced its Ch. 78 relief bill, S-2271. See this post for details.
Along with coming to an agreement on Ch. 78 relief, Sweeney has committed to passing two job justice bills that protect the jobs of ESPs. Those bills provide long-overdue fairness to the many hard-working professionals who help make our schools the best in the nation.
The multiple pieces of legislation will provide just-cause arbitration rights to educational support professionals (ESP) and prevent subcontracting of ESP positions during an active collective bargaining agreement.
Legislation to address privatization of ESP jobs will prohibit employers from entering into a subcontracting agreement that affects the employment of those covered by an unexpired collective bargaining agreement. Once a collective bargaining agreement expires, an employer would be permitted to enter into a subcontracting agreement only if the employer provides written notice to the local associations in each collective bargaining unit and to the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission at least 90 days prior to any effort to seek a subcontracting agreement.
Under the legislation, school boards will be required to give local associations the opportunity to meet and discuss the decision to subcontract and negotiate over its impact. Each employee replaced or displaced because of a subcontracting agreement would retain all previously acquired seniority and would have recall rights if the subcontracting terminates.
Legislation to provide or expand due-process for ESPs will extend to nonteaching school employees the right to submit to binding arbitration any dispute regarding whether there is just cause for a disciplinary action up to and including the lack of continuation of employment.