Updated Thursday, Feb. 14, 1 p.m.
BREAKING: The Senate Education Committee has announced that it will hear two ESP rights bills, S-1191 and S-2163, on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 at 10 a.m. NJEA urges members to contact members of the Committee to ask their support for these important bills.
ESP bill moves out of Assembly Education Committee
NJEA President Barbara Keshishian joined NJEA members Annette Ruch and Lynn Cianci to testify in support of an important ESP rights bill being heard by the Assembly Education Committee. A-3627 would bring greater fairness to the process by which districts decide whether to subcontract certain jobs. It stipulates that districts must provide employees with at least 90 days’ notice of any effort to subcontract jobs. They would also be required to bargain with employees over the impact on subcontracting, and would not be allowed to do so during the term of an existing contract.
The bill passed out of the committee by a 7-0 vote. It is now expected to move to the full Assembly for a vote. On the Senate side, a hearing in the Senate Education Committee is expected soon.
In addition to testifying at today’s hearing, hundreds of NJEA members called and emailed members of the Assembly Education Committee, urging passage of the bill.
Speaking in strong support at today’s hearing, Keshishian told legislators that the bill “provides a common sense approach to balancing the needs of an employer and employees.”
“This bill does not prohibit a school district from entering into a subcontracting agreement,” noted Keshishian. “It says that the employer cannot enter into a subcontracting agreement when an existing contract is in place. Simply said, you cannot break the contract that the employer and employee have already agreed to.”
Cianci, a cafeteria worker in Washington Township (Gloucester Co.), shared her experience of an abrupt privatization effort in her district. “The circumstances did not allow us to sit down with the administration to understand their motivation for privatizing the cafeteria staff,” she told legislators. “If we had been given this opportunity, we certainly would have worked with them to identify cost-savings that would not have jeopardized jobs or services for our students.”
In Washington Township, the community rallied around the cafeteria workers to prevent the subcontracting. “It was clear that the community did not see a reason to privatize, either. The question on maintaining the cafeteria with current public employees was approved by 67 percent of the voters,” she noted, before explaining that “there are larger community considerations that should play into a local district’s decision to privatize.”
Cianci also noted that many of the district’s 60 food service professionals live in Washington Township and play an important role in community life there.
Ruch, a paraprofessional in Toms River and New Jersey’s 2013 ESP of the Year, shared stories of districts that had experienced problems after rushed decisions to subcontract important services. “A school in south Jersey privatized its food service workers. Parents now pay a significantly higher price for school lunches,” she told legislators. She also raised concerns about the quality of services offered by some subcontractors. “Many school districts that have privatized transportation services have experienced long delays because bus companies are juggling multiple bus runs with different school districts.”
“My message is simple,” Ruch said. “Please support A-3627. This bill is not complicated. It merely requires employers to honor a contract that is already in place and it says that if privatization is going to be considered, give employees notice and an opportunity to negotiate over it.”
Legislators were persuaded by the testimony they heard, as well as by the calls and emails from NJEA members. “We keep hearing about savings as a reason to oppose the bill,” said Asm. Patrick Diegnan Chair the Assembly Education Committee. “Who knows better ways to find economies than the people who do the job? All this bill does is require the parties to negotiate.”
That sentiment was echoed by Asm. Herb Conaway, a primary sponsor of the bill. “Those agreements are sacrosanct and should not be broken,” he said. “When privatization is considered, both sides should be able to sit down and negotiate.”
Asm. Ralph Caputo got right to the heart of the matter. “Our kids have relationships with these people, and we have to understand that. Safety and a quality education come from more people than the teacher.”