Years-long member organizing campaign one step closer to success

The New Jersey Senate today passed legislation, by a vote of 34-0, to provide relief to both public school employees and taxpayers from ever-rising health care costs. The Senate also overwhelmingly passed two bills known as the ESP Job Justice bills. With Senate approval of all three bills, they only await a vote in the Assembly before going to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy, who has pledged to sign them.

The bill addressing health care costs, S-2273, provides 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.

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) were the primary sponsors of S-2273. The legislation, which has yet to move through the Assembly, was the result of a landmark agreement between NJEA and Sweeney announced in a March 9 press conference with NJEA President Marie Blistan and the Senate president.

“Today marks a milestone in our campaign for relief from Ch. 78 and Job Justice for our ESP members,” Blistan said. “I thank Sen. Sweeney for moving these bills quickly once we reached an agreement. This has been a long time coming, but what happened today is the result of our members’ willingness to stay engaged in the process and to fight for what’s right.”

“Thanks to the Senate’s 34-0 vote today, as well as the 31-3 and 32-2 passage of our ESP Job Justice bills, a career in public education in New Jersey is on a path to once again becoming an affordable option for those who want to serve our state’s students,” said NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller. “The passage of S-2273 sends our members and future educators the message that their work is valued by the New Jersey Senate.”

“Today, the New Jersey Senate recognized the important work of our educational support professionals by providing the job security they need to focus on doing what they do best, serving the children of this state,” said NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty. “Due process and the protection against subcontracting is the right thing to do for our custodians, bus drivers, food service professionals, school secretaries, paraprofessionals and every other member of the school team. Combined with the Chapter 78 relief bill, it’s an important day for all of us.”

What’s in S-2273

Under S-2273, new health care options will be added to the School Employees Health Benefits Program (SEHBP): the New Jersey Educators Health Plan will be added as soon as the law takes effect and the Garden State Plan will be developed and added approximately one year later. Members who opt for one of these plans will finally be relieved of the onerous payroll deductions that were tied to a percentage of ever-rising health care premiums.

Under the New Jersey Educators Health Plan and the Garden State Plan, payroll deductions would be associated with a percentage of salary—resulting in greatly reduced health insurance contributions, in many cases thousands of dollars less.

The bill has yet to pass through the Assembly. Once passed by the Assembly and signed by the governor, the New Jersey Educators Health Plan is slated to be available to members by July 1. The Garden State Health Plan would become available in the following year.

Access to services and providers would not change, and members will see little or no increase in out-of-pocket expenses for in-network services. Members will have better access to wellness services, and the plan will be working to expand access to lower-cost Direct Primary Care services.

Current members who are not in school districts covered by SEHBP will continue to choose among the health care plans their local associations have negotiated with their school boards. However, their school districts will be required to offer the New Jersey Educators Health Plan through their private carriers with employees’ contributions calculated as a percentage of salary—resulting in greatly reduced health insurance contributions, in many cases thousands of dollars less.

For more details on both plans, visit njea.org/justice.

Retirees who premium-share will save under S-2273

Under S-2273, all current and future non-Medicare retirees will be enrolled in the New Jersey Educators Health Plan.

S-2273 does not affect those retirees receiving Medicare. They will continue to be covered under their current plans—Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplemental —unless they choose otherwise. There will be no increase in how much any retiree pays for premium sharing. Retirees who do not pay a premium share, will continue to pay nothing toward your premium.  Retirees who are required to pay toward their premiums will find that cost will stay the same or, more likely, decrease. Under S-2273, the retirees’ contribution will be calculated as a percentage of their pension benefit, not a percentage of the premium, unless a percentage of premium results in a lower contribution.

For details, visit njea.org/justice.

Job Justice for ESPs

The Senate also overwhelmingly passed S-993 and S-1928, two bills that provide ESPs with due process rights and fair protections against subcontracting during the term of a negotiated contract.

S-993, sponsored by Sens. Anthony Bucco (R- Morris) and Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), passed in the Senate today by a vote of 32-2. Once passed by the Assembly and signed by the governor it 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. The bill protects ESP from being dismissed from employment without just cause.

S-1928, sponsored by Sens. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer), Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), Nia Gill (D-CCC) and Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), passed by a vote of 31-3.Once passed by the Assembly and signed by the governor, it 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.

For more details on both ESP Job Justice bills, visit njea.org/justice.

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