Dozens of Jersey City teachers stormed last night’s board of education meeting after working without a contract for four months, demanding that the district offer them a fair deal.
“Our teachers: they need their contract, they deserve a contract,” BOE Trustee-elect Mussab Ali said before halting for loud applause from the audience of at least 200 people.
“We want a contract! We want a contract!,” teachers loudly chanted at the board’s last meeting of the year at Public School No. 11, also known as Martin Luther King, Jr. School.
“Talking about Chapter 78, the whole purpose of Chapter 78 was that once it sunset, the teachers were supposed to get relief on their healthcare benefits. So I know this isn’t something that’s done overnight and I know it’s something that everyone has been working towards, I’m here to just say we should all be working together,” added Ali.
Teachers held up signs that said “Chapter 78 Relief Now!” and “No Contract! No Respect!” throughout the early hours of the meeting, which ran past midnight.
Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco said the pay disparity in the district needs to be fixed now.
“I’m hear to tell you that Chapter 78 is so onerous, and I know that some of you, I’ve heard it from all of you, whether you’re an attorney, whether you’re a senior board member here, making $175,000, $180,000, I have to pay for my health benefits – so do we,” Greco said.
“Most of this senior staff here, some of them that have known me since I’m a kid in the hall os [no.] 23 school, make a $100,000 more than half of the teachers in this district. That is unconscionable that this board, or whomever the powers that be, refuse to budge on Chapter 78.”
Chapter 78 mandates that public employees pay a percentage of their heath insurance premium ranging from 3 to 35 percent. In Jersey City, teachers are paying the maximum percentage of 35.
Jersey City teacher Colleen Kelleher took a light-hearted approach at the podium, singing a holiday-themed song about the teachers’ latest contract woes.
“Said the JCEA to the board of ed: do you see what I see? Coming down from Trenton after break. Do you hear what I hear? A raise, a raise, coming in the way of taking more money out of your check,” she sang, with the crowd happy to participate as well.
The board took no formal action on the teachers’ contract at the meeting, though they did pass a measure asking the district to review all options to provide district teachers with Chapter 78 relief.
The measure, introduced by Vice President Sudhan Thomas, passed by a vote of 7-2, with Trustee Luis Felipe Fernandez voting no and Trustee Vidya Gangadin abstaining.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new information.