Following a years-long campaign by NJEA’s 200,000 members, the Assembly today passed two bills that provide needed health care cost relief to New Jersey’s public school employees as well as important due process to over 50,000 educational support professionals (ESP) across New Jersey. The Ch. 78 relief bill passed unanimously, while the ESP due process bill earned overwhelming bipartisan support. An additional bill that provides subcontracting protections for ESPs has passed both the Senate and Assembly, but still needs to be reconciled due to a difference in the versions passed by the two chambers. The first two bills now go to the desk of Gov. Phil Murphy, who has long pledged his support for both Ch. 78 relief and ESP Job Justice.
NJEA President Marie Blistan praised the cooperative effort between NJEA members and legislators to achieve this milestone. “These bills are the result of more than two years of hard work by our members to achieve needed relief for all members and job justice for our 50,000 educational support professionals,” said Blistan. “Through all of the challenges, we continued to advocate for the respect that our members deserve and what we know is right for our profession and our students. Because of how we all came together, our schools will be stronger, and our members will be more secure as we head into the serious challenges ahead. We are proud to have worked with so many elected leaders, particularly Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Coughlin, to achieve these important goals. We look forward to standing with both of them and with Gov. Murphy when he keeps the promise he made to our members to sign these bills and finally give New Jersey these important wins.”
NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller noted that today’s votes provide a model for how to achieve positive results. “These bills are 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 praised the hard work and determination of NJEA members though a long campaign. “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.”
Legislators also hailed the passage of the bills. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin 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.”
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Assembly sponsors of the bill to provide due process rights to educational support professionals, highlighted the value that those key individuals play in New Jersey’s public schools. “School employees who do not directly teach students are also essential to our public education system,” said Caputo and Jasey. “Bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and many other staff members make critical contributions to school functionality and help provide our children with a well-rounded educational experience. Yet despite their essential roles, they have not received the same protections as teachers. That’s why this bill will offer them the option of a neutral, third-party arbitrator to help determine whether any disciplinary action taken against them is fair and necessary. This is an equitable way to ensure employment protections.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney, whose chamber passed the bills in March and concurred today with the versions passed by the Assembly, along with bill sponsor Sen. Joe Cryan, hailed the fact that the Ch. 78 relief bill provides benefits to all parties.
“Now, more than ever, it is important that we find ways to produce savings for taxpayers and educators,” said Sen. Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “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 plan is good for teachers and other educators who perform such an important role in educating and guiding students,” said Sen. Cryan (D-Union). “It 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.”
The next stop for the bills is the desk of Gov. Murphy. Speaking specifically of the Ch. 78 relief bill passed today, Murphy shared a statement of support. “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 regarding A-20. “I thank the New Jersey Education Association, Assembly Speaker Coughlin, and Senate President Sweeney for their collaborative, good-faith negotiations that have finally made Chapter 78 relief for our educators possible. I look forward to swiftly signing this bill into law.”
NJEA will continue to work with leaders of both chambers to reconcile the subcontracting bills that both have passed to ensure that NJEA members receive the protections intended in both versions of the bill.
These handouts were from meetings over the last few months and give you an over view of the bills: Some items MIGHT have changed:
The Actual Senate Bill: PDFS-2273