JERSEY CITY, N.J.—Striking Jersey City teachers and school staff returned to work Mar. 19, after their union reached a tentative contract agreement with the city Board of Education the night before.
“I think we made a good breakthrough,” Jersey City Education Association President Ronald Greco told LaborPress. He said he couldn’t give any details of the proposed contract because it’s still under legal review, but said the union had won a “big victory” on health care.
Health-insurance costs were the biggest issue in the walkout by more than 4,000 school employees, which began on Mar. 16. Chapter 78, a 2011 state law backed by then-Gov. Chris Christie, prohibited public employees’ unions from bargaining over health coverage for several years, and mandated that workers pay at least 1.5% of their salary for premiums. Last October, then-state Treasurer Ford M. Scudder notified school employees that their premiums would go up by 13% in 2018, blaming the increase on the New Jersey Education Association’s refusal to accept cost-shifting “reforms” such as higher deductibles and copayments.
“That’s what we really resolved yesterday,” Greco said Mar. 19. “That’s the big hurdle we’ve been bargaining on all year.”
The proposed two-year contract, reached after a 13-hour negotiating session, would be retroactive to last summer, when the previous deal expired, and run through the summer of 2019. The agreement reached Mar. 18 covers the 3,100 teachers in JCEA. Contracts still have to be worked out for the union’s three smaller affiliates—more than 1,000 paraprofessionals and secretaries, and about 20 “non-certified administrators and supervisors”—but the health-care provisions in the teachers’ deal will cover them too, Greco said.
He expects those contracts to be finalized and all four of them ratified over the next two or three weeks. The Board of Education also has to approve the deals.
A Hudson County judge on Mar. 16 had approved the board’s request to order the teachers to return to work, citing the state’s law against strikes by public employees. A JCEA lawyer told the Jersey Journal afterwards that he was “not optimistic” that they would go back.
“The brave members of JCEA took a stand for themselves, their students and all of New Jersey,” NJEA President Marie Blistan said in a statement. “They demonstrated the power of a union to improve the lives of working people. This contract agreement sets an important precedent for all of New Jersey. It is a victory for all public-school employees and students in our state.”
NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller added that by going on strike for affordable health care, “the members of JCEA sent a strong message to employers across New Jersey.”