NJEA members walk-in to State House, lobby legislators

Educators call for support for great public schools, job justice for school employees

Chanting “great public schools for every student” and “job justice for every school employee,” hundreds of NJEA members held a Walk-In to the NJ State House on Thursday, Jan. 17 to deliver 116,000 petitions signed by educators across the state calling for relief from crushing health care contributions and fair treatment for Educational Support Professionals (ESP).

“We held this Walk-In today to make sure that our elected officials never forget that the top priority of every legislator in the state must be the best interests of New Jersey’s children,” said NJEA President Marie Blistan. “NJEA members have worked hard to build and maintain one of the best systems of public education in the nation, and we continue to be vigilant to ensure that our schools stay strong. But they can only be strong if the educators doing the work are treated with dignity and respect.”

NJEA’s campaign to Fix The Unfairness is focused on quality, affordable health care for school employees and due process and limits on subcontracting for educational support professionals.

NJEA has been tirelessly advocating for relief from the crushing economic burden imposed by Ch. 78. The 2011 law imposed harsh health care premium sharing requirements on public employees along with increased pension contributions. The law also required higher pension contributions from the state, but the previous administration reneged on that part of the law and later fought in court to ignore the state’s funding obligations.

“The devastating impact of Ch. 78 on the educators of this state cannot be overstated,” said NJEA Vice President Sean M. Spiller. “School employees have contributed to their health care and pensions for decades, but since the passage of Ch. 78 in 2011, out of control health care costs have driven people out of the profession or forced them to take multiple extra jobs. We need a fair cap on health care costs for our members so they can focus on what they do best: educating our students, who are the future of this state.”

In 2013, NJEA successfully passed bills that would provide due process rights for educational support professionals and protections against promiscuous subcontracting. Then-Gov. Chris Christie vetoed both bills in July 2013. With a new governor, NJEA is once again fighting for fairness for these essential employees.

“Our students deserve highly qualified, committed, and focused educators in their schools,” said NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty. “And our educational support professionals (ESP) are an essential part of what makes our schools successful. But for too long, they have not been treated with the fairness they deserve. That is why we are calling on legislators to support S-296-A-3185/A-3395, which would prohibit employers from subcontracting ESP jobs during an existing collective bargaining agreement, and S-3089/A-3664, which would ensure just-cause arbitration for ESP members. This is about doing the right thing for the hard-working professionals who keep our schools safe, clean, and focused on learning.”

Hundreds of members met at NJEA’s headquarters before rallying outside the office and shared their stories about the necessity of job justice for educators.

Bethanne Augsbach, a third grade teacher and president of the Monroe Township Education Association, called on legislators to support S-2606/A-4352, which would provide Ch. 78 relief to educators by tying public employees’ premium share for health benefits to a percentage of salary instead of a percentage of premium cost.

“I’m here today because we deserve better,” said Augsbach. “We deserved to be treated with respect, and that means our pay checks don’t go backwards. We give everything to our profession and we deserve to be treated with the same respect that we have for our students.  It is not right that an educator in this state should have to choose between paying the mortgage and paying for chemotherapy. Or for school employees to have to rely on food banks to make ends meet. Legislators need to know that these are the consequences of their votes. We are here to hold them accountable and demand that they make it right.”

Middlesex County Education Association President and Woodbridge Twp. School attendance officer Lois Yukna called for greater respect for the work ESP do and a recognition that schools are safer when dedicated, caring professionals who work directly for the district provide the essential services on which schools rely.

“It’s time we stop allowing board of educations to balance their budgets on the backs of educational support professionals,” Yukna said. “We are not a budget line for boards to slash. We educate children and we deserve the respect that our contracts offer. We deserve to do our jobs – which is to educate – without the threat of privatization. We’re fighting for job security because our students deserve the consistency and security that we provide. No strangers in our schools!”

Union Twp. Vice President and school security guard James Frazier spoke on the necessity of due process rights for ESP.

“ESPs are the most consistent faces in the lives of our students every single day,” Frazier said. “Just like our teacher counterparts, our employment should not depend on the whims of a school board or administration. ESPs make our schools stronger, we make our communities stronger, and we make this state stronger!”

Following the brief rally, members processed across the street to the State House where they lobbied legislators to sign on as sponsors and support the bills. A smaller delegation of members delivered petitions to Gov. Murphy’s office. Throughout his campaign for governor, Murphy has been vocal in his support for economic justice for educators and increased respect and protections for educational support professionals.

Learn more about NJEA’s job justice campaign and take action today to support public schools and public school employees.

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