As reported by NJ.com, the New Jersey Education Association (“NJEA”) and Governor Chris Christie’s administration agreed to hold an information-only meeting on proposed changes to retiree healthcare. The administration took the teacher’s union to court to compel members who sit on the School Employees’ Health Benefits Commission to attend commission meetings. They have boycotted recent meetings to block the administration from forcing a vote to move retirees onto Medicare Advantage.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson signed a consent order in which both sides agreed to attend a meeting Thursday “for informational purposes only” at which “the commission shall not conduct or take any vote with regard to any retiree medical plan for (School Employees Health Benefits Plan) current or future retirees or any other substantive matter.” Jacobson suggested at a hearing last week that the legal spat could have been avoided if the State simply presented the Medicare Advantage proposal at one meeting and held the vote at another.
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer said in a statement the consent order “means that the state has to answer our questions.” “We will continue to defend our members’ rights to receive the benefits they have earned,” he continued. A spokesman from the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.
The State initially sought for the court to force the members to attend one or more meetings or allow the commission to meet without a quorum. Assistant Attorney General Jean Reilly told the court that the NJEA’s absence was holding the Medicare Advantage proposal “hostage” and effectively forcing a negative vote. The NJEA, which represents more than 200,000 members, has accused Christie of refusing to fill a vacant seat aside for a labor representative in an effort to manipulate the vote. The seat, belonging to a member of the AFL-CIO, has been vacant since August 2015. The NJEA has also accused the administration of withholding information on Medicare Advantage in addition to arguing that the medical plan adjustment falls outside the commission’s jurisdiction and instead should be before the commission’s plan design committee, which oversees things like copays and deductibles.
Steinhauer said the union will review the information expected to be provided by medical plan consultants Thursday “to determine whether the State’s proposed changes are harmful to members or illegal.”