Dozens of educators from across Morris County marched outside Morristown town hall during Wednesday’s evening rush hour, exhorting passing motorists to support state legislation to lower healthcare costs for unionized school employees.
Public teachers said they have been clobbered by a 2011 law, Chapter 78, which committed them to shoulder a portion of rising insurance premiums that they say has outpaced their annual raises.
“Gov. Christie tied our hands,” said Deirdre Falk, president of The Educational Association of Morris, representing 750 teachers and support staff in the Morris School District.
The 200,000-member New Jersey Education Association (TEAM) backs S-2606 and A-4352, bills that would link employee health contributions to a percentage of their salaries, not to the overall cost negotiated by school districts and insurors.
That change, which would require waivers of the state’s 2 percent cap on district budget increases, could save some teachers as much as $6,000 a year, according to Falk.
She said she paid about $1,200 a month for health coverage before she opted to join her husband’s plan. Falk is a special education teacher. When she started her career 28 years ago, health benefits were one of the inducements.
“We were told, ‘You’re never going to make a lot of money, even though you have a college degree. But you have benefits for life as part of your salary.'”
Falk said TEAM is close to ratifying a contract with the Morris School District, but she could not discuss details.
State Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-25th Dist.) spoke with the demonstrators, who included Morris Plains teacher Laurie Schorno, president of the Morris County Council of Educational Associations.
The teachers’ situation is “recognized on both sides of the aisle,” Bucco said. “There’s going to have to be some kind of compromise somewhere. The devil is in the details.”
The NJEA also supports S-296 (A-3185/A-3395), which would bar school districts from privatizing janitorial, cafeteria- and other services during a contract. In southern New Jersey, school districts have farmed out about 3,000 such jobs, according to Steve Beatty, NJEA’s secretary-treasurer.
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, a member of Local 68 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, was on hand Wednesday to show support for the teachers.
His administration is facing labor challenges of its own. On Tuesday, Morristown police packed a town council meeting to vent frustrations over their negotiations. They have worked without a contract for 10 months, and contend they are the lowest-paid cops in Morris County.
“As a union member, I support them,” Dougherty said of the police. “But I also support our business administrator, representing our taxpayers.”
The Mayor said he has urged police to continue bargaining in good faith, and added he is available, if asked by town Administrator Jillian Barrick, to join the talks and help hammer our “a compromise everyone can live with.”