New Jersey teachers’ strike ends, but questions remain about health care costs

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

New Jersey teachers returned to work on Monday after reaching a tentative deal to end a one-day strike. But the terms of the agreement won’t yet be made public.

Teachers in Jersey City, N.J. reached a deal Sunday to end the first teachers’ strike in the city in 20 years.

Educators in Jersey City went on strike Friday after the city’s school district failed to reach a deal on health care costs for teachers, which union officials say have risen as high as $1,500 per month.

After a 13-hour negotiating session between the school district and the teachers’ union on Sunday, a tentative contract deal was reached to end the strike.

The terms of the deal may not be seen by the public for weeks, pending a vote by teachers on whether or not to approve it. It remains unclear how beneficial the terms of the agreement are for teachers.

Teachers’ union officials have previously stated they wanted to end the strike by Monday, but would only do so if they reached a deal that educators considered fair. Union officials praised the agreement reached Sunday.

“I think we reached a fair and equitable agreement with the district,” said Ron Greco, president of the Jersey City Education Association, which is the union representing striking teachers.

“This contract agreement sets an important precedent for all of New Jersey,” said Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “It is a victory for all public school employees and students in our state.”

Jersey City schools had a half day Friday, after the district hired substitutes to replace striking workers. The same day, a judge ordered teachers back to work because it’s illegal for New Jersey teachers to go on strike.

Only 12 states allow some strikes by public-sector workers, while many others impose legal penalties for such strikes. But laws against public-sector strikes didn’t prevent West Virginia teachers from engaging in an illegal nine-day strike that ended earlier this month, securing their demands for a 5 percent wage increase.

And, though Kentucky teachers are not yet on strike, the state’s ban on public employee strikes hasn’t prevented a planned school closure Wednesday as educators rally against proposed pension cuts.

Nonetheless, the threat of legal action against teachers who go on strike can be intimidating — New Jersey has previously jailed teachers for striking. It’s unclear how big a factor the judge’s order was in putting an end to Friday’s strike.

New Jersey teachers have been working under an expired contract since September as they attempted to negotiate a new contract with the school district. The deal reached Sunday would resolve not just the dispute over rising health care costs, but also the terms of the contract as a whole.

“Glad this came to a resolution and thank you to all the parties for spending 13 hours today together working towards a solution so that tomorrow we can all get back to moving the city forward,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop tweeted on Sunday.