The New Jersey Education Association on Tuesday announced that “no further discussion will be occurring” with the New Jersey Pension and Health Benefit Study Commission, which has recommended broad changes in the state's pension system.
The teachers' union began discussing policies that would affect the $77.1 billion New Jersey Pension Fund, Trenton, with commission members in September. “However, as those discussions went on, it became obvious the commission was going to make recommendations to which we could not agree,” Wendell Steinhauer, the NJEA president, said in a statement posted on the union website.
Those recommendations included “forcing employees to pay to repair their pensions with even deeper cuts in their health benefits; expanding the current statutory premium costs for employees; and undermining their collective bargaining rights,” Mr. Steinhauer added.
Mr. Steinhauer said his union wants full restoration of state contributions to the New Jersey Pension Fund for the fiscal year ending June 30, the subject of a lawsuit by many unions that is awaiting oral arguments May 6 before the New Jersey Supreme Court. “Gov. (Chris) Christie cannot be allowed to pick and choose which portions of the law apply to him,” Mr. Steinhauer said in the statement.
“If we had it to do over again, we would never have signed the memo describing concepts we discussed with the commission,” Mr. Steinhauer said. “It was misrepresented by the governor, and that distracted everyone from the real priority: requiring the state to fund the pensions for which our members have paid their share, on each and every payday throughout their careers.”
Mr. Christie withheld $1.57 billion in contributions to the pension fund, but his action was overturned by Trenton-based Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson on Feb. 23, who said the governor violated participants' “constitutionally protected contractual rights to pension contributions.”
Mr. Christie filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on March 31, asking that Ms. Jacobson's ruling be reversed. Several unions filed petitions with the Supreme Court on Mondayasking the court to uphold the judge's ruling.
“It is unfortunate that the NJEA is unwilling to continue to work with the independent, non-partisan commission,” Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Mr. Christie, wrote in an e-mail. “This unwillingness does not change the numbers. We will continue to work to solve this crisis with the commission.”
Among the commission's recommendations are the freezing of the New Jersey Pension Fund and the creating of a new cash balance plan for existing and future participants.