Gov. Phil Murphy today fulfilled a campaign promise made to NJEA members in 2016, as he signed NJEA’s long-sought Ch. 78 relief plan into law. Flanked by NJEA’s officers and other leaders, as well as Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and other legislators, Gov. Murphy signed S-2273/A-20, which will lower the cost of health insurance for school employees while also lowering costs for school districts.
NJEA President Marie Blistan noted that not one legislator opposed the NJEA-backed legislation. “When every Republican in the Legislature and every Democrat in the Legislature and the governor of the state agree with the state’s largest public employee union on health care reform that protects high-quality benefits and saves everyone money, that may just be the most surprising political story of the year,” said Blistan. “But here we are, because that’s exactly what happened.”
She added, “This law is a win-win-win for NJEA members, our students and New Jersey residents. That was only possible because we worked together in the best interests of this state. I thank Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney, and Speaker Coughlin. We found the common ground and created solutions that help everyone. Because of how we all came together, our schools are stronger, our members are more secure, and our communities are in a better position as we face the serious challenges ahead.”
NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller lauded the cooperation that led to this positive outcome. “This is an example of how well government can work for everyone when everyone works together,” said Spiller. “We’ve achieved fairness and financial relief for NJEA members and savings for school districts and the state. Instead of fighting to create winners and losers, we came together to create a win for everyone. This is a very important accomplishment at a time when New Jersey deserves some good news, and our members deserve a lot of credit for their determination and persistence in getting us here.”
NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty joined Spiller in crediting the hard work of NJEA members. “Democracy works when people participate,” said Beatty. “Our members understand that and had thousands of phone calls and personal conversations with legislators, sent countless emails and were always present when these issues were discussed. Because of that, we achieved an outcome that many people said was impossible. We knew from the beginning that it would take patience, determination and tireless advocacy, and we never backed away from that challenge. It’s an incredible feat and shows the power of collective action. Members know they aren’t just members of any union, they are members of NJEA.”
Gov. Murphy, who had pledged support for Ch. 78 relief during his campaign and had called for it publicly several times since, praised the parties for coming together to achieve a positive outcome. “With our state facing historic public health and economic challenges, it is more important than ever that we ensure access to high-quality, affordable health care for our educators, while also ensuring cost-savings for our taxpayers,” said Gov. Murphy. “I am proud to sign this bill into law and at long-last provide relief for our educators from Chapter 78. I thank the New Jersey Education Association, Senate President Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Coughlin, for their collaborative, good-faith negotiations.”
Senate President Sweeney attended the signing with Sen. Joe Cryan. The Senate passed the bill 34-0 on March 19, just as New Jersey was entering the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. “Now, more than ever, it is important that we find ways to produce savings for taxpayers and educators,” said Sen. Sweeney. “While we focus on the immediate threat to public health and economic stability brought on by the global pandemic, this agreement will produce meaningful and lasting financial benefits at the same time it preserves quality health care for public workers.”
“This is good for teachers and other educators who perform such an important role in educating and guiding students,” said Sen. Cryan (D-Union). “It comes at a critical time when school systems will make health care more affordable for them at a time when they are experiencing financial demands and higher costs for medical services. They deserve quality care that they can afford. I want to thank Marie Blistan, Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Coughlin and my legislative colleagues for working to get this done. It’s a significant achievement that will produce benefits for educators and taxpayers.”
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin sponsored A-20 in the Assembly, which passed it unanimously, 73-0, on June 29. Coughlin also highlighted the win-win nature of the Ch. 78 legislation. “Public education employees are essential to New Jersey, and we value their contributions,” said Coughlin. “This legislation will restore fairness to Chapter 78 health benefit contributions and provide needed relief to New Jersey taxpayers. After months of work with Senate President Sweeney, the NJEA and the governor’s office, I am pleased to move this bill forward. By providing new, more affordable health plan options and including a guaranteed floor of savings, this bill is a win-win.”
In addition to the Ch. 78 relief bill, NJEA members’ campaign for job justice over the last two years has included advocacy for two important bills to protect the rights of the educational support professionals who are so critical to the success of New Jersey’s best-in-the-nation public schools. They are S-993/A-631, which provides due process and just cause rights to ESPs, and S-2303/A-4140, which would provide protection against subcontracting during the term of collective bargaining agreement and would require employers to give notice and bargain the impact of any proposed subcontracting once a contract expires.
S-993 and A-631 have passed the Senate and Assembly, respectively, by overwhelming bipartisan majorities and await Gov. Murphy’s signature. S-2303 and A-4140 have also passed their respective chambers with overwhelming bipartisan support but have technical differences between them that require them to be reconciled between the Senate and the Assembly. Once reconciled, they will also go to Gov. Murphy, who has repeatedly pledged his support for both proposals.