Teachers in the Jersey City Public Schools returned to work on Monday after an illegal one-day work stoppage—the first teacher strike in the state since the 2002-2003 school year.
On Friday morning, shortly after the strike began, NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod issued a statement declaring the Association’s “absolute support” for the Jersey City Board of Education.
“Teacher strikes are not legal in New Jersey, with good reason: Education is an essential service, and a work stoppage by teachers disrupts the school program. It’s an imposition on families, and it hurts kids,” said Feinsod.
“Our Association stands behind the Jersey City Board of Education in the face of a work stoppage by its teachers’ union. In the interest of Jersey City’s students, the teachers need to put down the picket signs and return to the classroom.”
He continued, “Terms and conditions of a new contract must be settled between labor and management, without dragging students and their families into the fray. The issues in Jersey City have been successfully resolved in other school districts at the bargaining table and not through illegal action by the union.”
In Jersey City, contract negotiations had not yet been declared at “impasse,” the term used when collective bargaining is deadlocked. As such, the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission had not arranged for mediation, which is the first step in the impasse-resolution process.
The teachers returned to work after the board and union reached a tentative agreement on Sunday night. On Friday afternoon, a Superior Court judge had issued an injunction, ordering the teachers to end the illegal strike and return to work.
At issue in the negotiations was the level of employee contributions to health benefits. New Jersey’s pension and health benefits reform act of 2011 (known as “Chapter 78”) set automatic, mandatory increases in the percentage of premium to be paid by employees, based upon their salaries and other factors. The contribution levels were phased in over a four-year period. Once the maximum levels are reached, they can be subject to negotiation, up or down, like all other terms and conditions of employment.
Boards of education are under no obligation to agree to change the levels. To date, 88 percent of school districts remain at the maximum (Year 4) contributions. Many school boards have managed to preserve education programming and staffing due in part to the Chapter 78 contribution levels.