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8-17-11 Education Issues in Recent News

Nj.com Politifact - The Truth-O-Meter Says - Says the state’s pension and health benefits reform includes ‘the destruction of public sector collective bargaining rights’  Half True

Press of Atlantic City - Northfield resident is trying to generate support for proposal to give more state aid to suburban, wealthy school districts

Njspotlight.com - Teacher Contract Talks: Slow Going, Small Raises

A third of school districts will be starting out the year without a contract in place

 

Nj.com Politifact - The Truth-O-Meter Says:

Says the state’s pension and health benefits reform includes "the destruction of public sector collective bargaining rights."  Half True.

NJ-CAN on Tuesday, August 9th, 2011 in a petition: Democratic group claims New Jersey’s pension and health benefit reform destroys bargaining rights for public-sector employees

The roar of the protests outside the Statehouse has faded, but a new group of Democratic activists is going after the Democratic legislators who sided with Republican Gov. Chris Christie in supporting New Jersey’s pension and health benefits reform.

Referring to its targets as "Christie-crats," NJ-CAN kicked off a petition drive last week calling for the removal of Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) from their leadership posts. Both legislators helped craft the pension and health benefits legislation, and voted for the bill.

The petition, which was posted on the group's website on Aug. 9, states: "Sweeney and Oliver betrayed core principles of the Democratic Party by engineering the passage of Governor Christie’s State Pension and Health Benefits Bill, including the destruction of public sector collective bargaining rights."

Politifact: New Jersey decided to check whether the bill includes "the destruction of public sector collective bargaining rights," and found that NJ-CAN is exaggerating the impacts on unions’ rights.

The legislation weakens collective bargaining rights, but doesn’t destroy them.

"It is destructive to all collective bargaining without being the destruction of it all," said Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communication Workers of America, the largest union representing state workers.

Now, let’s talk about how the pension and health benefits bill affects union workers.

Signed into law by Christie on June 28, the legislation mandates higher payments from workers for pension and health care expenses, but the impact on union negotiations concerns the health care piece. Pension contributions have not been collectively bargained, but instead set by state statute.

Health care expenses have been part of negotiations, but the higher health care contributions outlined in the legislation are non-negotiable for four years. For workers under an existing union contract, the higher contributions and four-year time frame begin when their contract expires.

But the legislation doesn’t take away all bargaining rights, and the health care contributions are scheduled to become part of negotiations once the four-year period is complete.

Newark-based labor union attorney Bennet Zurofsky, an NJ-CAN member who helped write the petition, acknowledged the statement may include "a small amount of hyperbole in it." But Zurofsky argued that without the health care piece, collective bargaining will not be meaningful.

"You’re bargaining over the crumbs," Zurofsky said.  

Rutgers labor professor Jeff Keefe agreed the legislation gives unions much less to bargain with, but he said the word "destruction" is "overkill." Unions can still negotiate wages, uniform allowances and other issues, Keefe said.

However, without health care as part of negotiations, an employer can demand wage cuts and a union has nothing to counter with, Keefe said.

Philip Harvey, a labor law professor at Rutgers, said in an email that the legislation amounts to a "’‘destruction of bargaining rights’ vis a vis health care expenses," but not all bargaining rights.

The elimination of bargaining for health care expenses will have indirect effects on other issues, Harvey said. Public-sector unions will enter negotiations in an ugly mood, making them go less smoothly, he said. Also, the unions will resist demands for other concessions more strongly in light of how the health care contributions are non-negotiable, he said.

Oliver and a spokesman for Sweeney both pointed out that collective bargaining for health care payments will be restored after the four-year period.

"The bill clearly does not destroy collective bargaining rights. In fact, I insisted upon the sunset provision that protects collective bargaining rights going forward, and the bill would not have advanced in the Assembly unless collective bargaining rights were protected," Oliver said in a statement. "Collective bargaining for health care resumes in 2015."

The ruling

NJ-CAN claimed the new pension and health benefits reform includes "the destruction of public sector collective bargaining rights." The legislation eliminates negotiations over health care contributions for a four-year period, a move that some experts said would make bargaining over other issues more difficult.

But you can’t say bargaining rights have been destroyed when unions can still negotiate wages and other issues, and when the health care negotiations are scheduled to resume at the end of the four years.

Since "destruction" is too strong of a word to explain the impacts on unions, we rate the statement Half True.

To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.

Press of Atlantic City - Northfield resident is trying to generate support for proposal to give more state aid to suburban, wealthy school districts

Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 10:04 pm

By DIANE D’AMICO Education WriterpressofAtlanticCity.com | 0 comments

A Northfield resident is trying to get local support for a North Jersey state senator’s proposal to give more state aid to suburban and wealthy school districts to offset property taxes.

But Dennis Mahon may be facing an uphill battle. Both Democratic Sen. Jim Whelan and his Republican challenger, Assemblyman Vincent Polistina, said they do not support the so-called Fair School Funding plan proposed by Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, Hunterdon.

Doherty’s plan would provide the same amount of state aid for every child no matter where he or she lives. He calculates that amount at about $7,500 per student based on current state income tax revenue. Doherty said the plan is more fair because residents in wealthier districts pay the most in income taxes but get the least back in school aid.

Under his plan, about 85 percent of districts would get more money, but poor urban and rural districts would lose millions of dollars.

A spreadsheet provided by Doherty shows state aid would increase for districts including Atlantic City, Avalon, Egg Harbor Township, Linwood, Ocean City and Upper Township, but decline for Bridgeton, Buena Regional, Egg Harbor City, Folsom, Millville, Pleasantville and Vineland.

Mahon said he was attracted to the idea because Northfield could get an extra $4.2 million in state aid. He is trying to get local municipal government officials to pass resolutions in support of the plan.

“I just think it’s a more fair and equitable solution,” he said.

Mahon has approached Northfield City Council, and said he plans to make presentations in Absecon and Hammonton both of which also would get more aid.

Northfield is listed on Doherty’s website as having passed the resolution, but Mahon said they have not. Northfield City Council President Tim Carew did not return calls from The Press of Atlantic City.

Polistina said he supports school aid reform but that Doherty’s proposal gives no consideration to other issues such as the extra needs of students with disabilities.

“There are equity issues,” he said.

Whelan said state aid is supposed to help level the playing field between disadvantaged students and wealthy students.

“Kids from Pleasantville start school behind kids in Linwood,” he said.

Doherty said he is willing to consider modifications but wants school funding to be a major issue in the state legislative races.

David Sciarra, director of the Education Law Center, which represents disadvantaged students, said Doherty’s proposal is a disaster because it would distribute money with no consideration for the actual cost of education, and it would simply transfer state aid from districts that need it most to districts that need it least.

“I can see how in a community with high property taxes, this would seem very attractive at first,” Sciarra said.

He said state officials should instead focus on funding equity for all districts, especially those such as Egg Harbor Township that are underfunded.

Contact Diane D'Amico:  609-272-7241  DDamico@pressofac.com

Njspotlight.com - Teacher Contract Talks: Slow Going, Small Raises

A third of school districts will be starting out the year without a contract in place

By John Mooney, August 17 in Education|2 Comments

Against the backdrop of New Jersey's battles over union rights and collective bargaining, tensions are playing out in local teacher contract talks, too.

Related Links

More than a third -- or nearly 210 at last count -- of the state's school districts will be starting the year without contracts, according to the school boards association in its annual labor update to be released today.

And of those that have settled, salary increases are getting tighter. The latest are averaging 2 percent, a full point less than all the contracts now in place, the association said.

The number of outstanding contracts is higher than usual for this time of year. Typically, about 150 districts are still in talks when schools open. And more than a third of ongoing negotiations have declared a formal impasse, which means calling in a state mediator, the association said.

Still, it is likely that more agreements will come with the start of the school year. And just because there is no new contract, schools still operate on the previous agreements. The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) spokesman added last night that there did not appear to be labor hot-spots that could bring job actions or other disruptions when schools open.

He added that from the union’s perspective, talks are barely moving across the state, between the new property tax cap and healthcare changes that require teachers to contribute set amounts toward their benefits, taking that issue off the bargaining table.

"It's slow, it's slow everywhere," said Steve Wollmer, the NJEA’s director of communications. "You have the tax cap, you have people making contributions that they never have before."

"Bottom line, it’s moving slow, if moving at all," he said. "It's a very difficult environment."

The school boards association focused more on the agreements that have been reached, showing smaller and smaller salary increases as the year progressed.

For instance, the average increase for contracts settled since January 2010 was 2.66 percent. In those settled since April of this year, it's 2.1 percent.

"Before last year, the major issue in negotiations was health benefits concessions," said Frank Belluscio, the school boards association's communications director. "The benefits reform act changed that, so that we’re now seeing the two prominent issues as salary and work time."

He said much of the time demands focus on more student instruction and a longer school day, as well as more professional development, including new state-mandated anti-bullying training.

And while healthcare contributions have largely been written into law, Belluscio said almost half of new contracts also have other provisions that help contain healthcare costs.

 


Garden State Coalition of Schools
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