Jersey City teachers want lower health care costs and they’ve gone on strike to secure them. On Friday morning, teachers went on strike. School nurses, guidance counselors, and secretaries also joined them for the strike.
“Quality, affordable health care is a fundamental right for everyone. My members are prepared to step up and take on this fight for everyone, knowing full well that it will be a long, difficult process,” Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco said in a statement released to media.
ON STRIKE! More than 3,000 teachers in Jersey City set up picket lines after failing to reach a deal on a new contract. Students will be dismissed early. Stay with @NBCNewYork for up to the minute details #nbc4ny pic.twitter.com/GhdF3rXcjs
— Tracie Strahan (@tstrahan4NY) March 16, 2018
— Maria Milito (@mariamilito) March 16, 2018
Earlier this week, Greco said it would be “game over” if the board of education did not approve the union’s contract during Thursday’s meeting.
The Jersey City Education Association has met with the Jersey City Board of Education more than 20 times since May 2017 for contract negotiations, according to NJ.com. Teachers have been working under an expired contract since December.
There has been a long fight between teachers unions and state lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie (R) over health care. In 2011, the state passed a law that unions fiercely opposed that meant health care plans for 500,000 public workers would be decided by a state panel instead of at a negotiating table. There was a sunset provision that allowed unions to bring it back to the negotiating table eventually. The implementation of those changes were staggered and depended on districts’ contracts. The law made it so that police officers, teachers, firefighters, and rank-and-file public workers would pay more for health benefits and pensions.
— News12NJ (@News12NJ) March 16, 2018
Under the law, employees pay anywhere from 3 percent to 35 percent of their health care premium — up from 1.5 percent — depending on their salary.
Public workers weren’t told how long they have to pay this higher premium before they would be able to negotiate it again. The Clementon Education Association said that after four years, the issue should be back at the bargaining table, leading the Clementon Board of Education to ask the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) to weigh in on the issue. But in 2015, PERC agreed with the school board and ruled that the union couldn’t negotiate for years. The union’s appeal was dismissed by a state appellate court in 2016.
Sign outside of Jersey City Education Association sums up the school day. Teachers walk out, students have half day, mayor calls it unfortunate and Bd of Ed. and Union sides are digging in. pic.twitter.com/fCeCHAtl6P
— Anthony Johnson (@AJohnsonwabc7) March 16, 2018
Last October, State Treasurer Ford M. Scudder sent a letter to teachers and other school staff to tell them they would pay 13 percent more for health coverage this year and blamed the New Jersey Education Association for not adopting “reasonable reforms.” The NJEA has members on the School Employees Health Benefits Plan Design Committee, and said they rejected the administration’s changes to coverage because the suggested changes “would have lowered premiums slightly by requiring members pay more for their health care in the form of higher copayments, higher coinsurances, and increased deductibles.”
NJEA spokesperson Steve Baker said at the time that the Christie administration made it seem as if there was a choice between a 13 percent increase and no increase, “which was not the case.”
Teachers specifically referred to that 2011 law as responsible for lowering their take home pay, according to NJ.com.
“We’re not going to respect you!” Picketing teacher chastises substitute who tried but failed to cross the picket line as tensions run high amid school strike in Jersey City. @PIX11News pic.twitter.com/LMWSPmm0K6
— Anthony DiLorenzo (@ADiLorenzoTV) March 16, 2018
On Friday, Greco told reporter Glenn Schuck that negotiations resumed at 9 a.m. to keep the strike at one day. Greco added that school conditions are also a source of concern for teachers and parents.
“A lot of these buildings are loaded with vermin and dirt and mold and no soap and towels in the bathroom so it all compounds the problem and the frustration level,” Greco told Schuck. “We have parents every month at board meetings fighting with the teachers for those same issues.”
The district said there would be a half-day schedule and that although after-school programs have been canceled, kids will be served breakfast and lunch.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (D) was not supportive of the strike. In a tweet, Fulop said that the strike was “unfortunate” and “avoidable.”
“Rumor is that the last offer from BOE to union was a 3.5% increase in year 1 + 2.7% increase in year 2. I don’t have more info but this seemed very fair + why strike w/those
#s – arbitrator will rule for less,” Fulop tweeted.
When someone responded to Fulop and said he was “negotiating in public,” he responded, “I got the info from union reps + it is a rumor – of course anyone can strike but from what is out there offer was very generous relative to a 2% cap + other districts. Again though hope u get all u are negotiating for but compromise is key + from outside the offer seems generous.”
He added that he thought a strike would hurt students. Other mayors have made similar remarks during strikes, such as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) who said in 2012 of the Chicago teachers strike, “Don’t take it out on the kids of the city of Chicago if you have a problem with me.” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (D) said during the 2016 Detroit teachers sickouts that he understood why teachers were frustrated, but “our children need our teachers in the classroom. I encourage teachers to end the sickouts and remain in the schools.”
A strike hurts teachers, parents + students. It isn’t best approach. If you can’t get there w/negotiating call impasse + have a 3rd party decide. All will live w/it. That said, an offer of aprox 7% raise over 2 yrs is higher than any offer in NJ- I think fair for ppl to know that
— Steven Fulop (@StevenFulop) March 16, 2018
A parent, Lizzie Skurnick, weighed in on the strike, and told NJ.com that she supports the teachers strike.
“A strike is disruptive, but that’s the point,” Skurnick said.