Earlier today at a Statehouse press conference, 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 . Ch. 78, a pension and health insurance law passed in 2011, imposed unsustainable and ever-growing health care costs on educators. 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 (ESP). Blistan and Sweeney also pledged today to work together to move those bills along with Ch. 78 relief.
Blistan released this statement regarding the agreement:
“This is the culmination of a very long process. 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.
“It is no secret that our members have suffered a great deal under Ch. 78, which imposed unsustainable and ever-growing health care costs on them. With this creative, collaborative approach, that burden is greatly reduced, and our members no longer need to fear that their take-home pay will decrease year after year as a result of those imposed contributions. It is another example of the kind of win-win solutions we can achieve when we come together determined to make progress.
“This is not the first time we have done that. As the Senate President alluded to earlier, we worked together in the past to dramatically lower health care costs through a reverse auction for prescription drugs. We worked together to provide better health care at a lower cost through Direct Primary Care Medical Homes. And we will continue to seek out smart, innovative ways to make our members’ health care both better and more efficient.
“But this agreement—on a fundamental problem that has existed for nearly nine years—was necessary to help break the cycle of rising costs that were driving educators out of the profession, discouraging others from entering, and leaving too many of those who remained struggling to make ends meet as they do some of the most important work in our society.
“With this agreement, every NJEA member who receives health insurance coverage through their employer will have access to high-quality health insurance that allows them to rest easy, knowing they and their families are well covered. With this agreement, every NJEA member who receives health insurance will have the opportunity to move out from under Ch. 78 and not have to worry that their take-home pay will drop as every other expense continues to rise. With this agreement, we restore economic stability to our profession and remove one of the greatest obstacles to keeping our public schools the very best in the nation.
“This is what happens when passionate people work together to achieve solutions, and it is a model for how we can continue to make progress in our schools and in our state. We look forward to working with Senate President Sweeney to move this agreement forward swiftly, so our members and the other taxpayers of New Jersey can get the relief they deserve.
“Finally, I thank the Senate President for his commitment to passing the two job justice bills that are so critical to our educational support professionals. Those bills provide long-overdue fairness to many hard-working professionals who help make our schools the best in the nation. Sen. Sweeney was instrumental in passing very similar legislation several years ago, only to see it vetoed by a previous governor. Passing those bills was the right thing then, and it is the right thing today. Those bills continue to have overwhelming bipartisan support, and we look forward to working together to bring our educational support professionals the respect, dignity and job justice that they deserve by moving both of these bills along with Ch. 78 relief.”
NJEA Director of Communications