In the continuing story involving Chapter 78’s effects on collective bargaining negotiations, the Appellate Division published a decision on May 3, 2019 ordering the Ridgefield Park Board of Education to reimburse association members for health contributions they made between July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2018 above 1.5 % of their salaries.

The New Jersey School Board Association participated as amicus curiae in this matter and joined the argument of the Ridgefield Park Board of Education.

Here is the necessary background of the case: The Ridgefield Park board and the Ridgefield Park Education Association entered a collective bargaining agreement effective from July 1, 2014 until June 30, 2018.  As they did in their previous agreement, the parties included the following language in the 2014-2018 contract:

Employees covered under this Article shall contribute the following percentage of their salary towards health insurance: 1.5% or the minimum set forth by statute, regulation or code.  Contributions shall be made through payroll deduction.

Ridgefield employees contributed at the Tier 4 level during the first year of the agreement in 2014-2015.  In the interim, however, the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) issued its decision in Clementon Bd. of Educ. v Clementon Educ. Assn. on August 13, 2015.  In that decision, PERC determined Chapter 78 mandated that during the 2014-2018 agreement, health care contributions remained preempted and non-negotiable until after June 30, 2018.

As a result, on Dec. 15, 2016, the Ridgefield district notified employees that pursuant to PERC’s Clementon decision, employees should have been contributing to their health care insurance in 2015-2016 consistent with Chapter 78 Tier 4 level and not at 1.5 % of their salary.  As such, the district was required by statute to adjust the contribution to Tier 4 levels.

The Ridgefield board and the NJSBA argued that, at the close of the 2011-2014 agreement, the four-year phase-in had not been given practical effect. Therefore, the earliest the employee contributions became a negotiable topic is on July 1, 2018. The Appellate Division did not agree with the action taken by the district, reversed the previous PERC decision, and ordered the reimbursement of employee contributions.

The NJSBA will make members aware of any further developments in this matter.  Board members are encouraged to review this case with their board attorney or with the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254.