Sunset of Chapter 78 May be Central to Public Employee Negotiations

Joel Weisblatt, NJ PERC

At the recent New Jersey league of Municipalities Annual Conference in late 2018, the New Jersey Municipal Management Association sponsored an important information session and panel discussion on the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) and labor/management in New Jersey. Leading off the session was the state’s new Chair of the PERC, Joel Weissblatt.

Weisblatt spent the bulk of his time addressing the sunset of Chapter 78, which will have an impact on the next set of employment negotiations with public employees. Chapter 78, the 2011 health benefits reform law for New Jersey’s public sector employees, brought some welcome relief to municipalities and local boards of education, allowing them to contain the escalating costs of providing employee health coverage through an employee contribution requirement. 

With the sunset of the Chapter 78 regulations, Weissblatt cautioned the audience that it will become a major discussion point for both the management and labor sides during negotiations. PERC and the state will be offering support to individual municipalities to ensure that all involved know the implications of the sunset. The state of New Jersey will also be sponsoring a labor law conference on April 26, 2019. PERC will offer further details as they become available.

The session continued with an active discussion of labor/management attorneys. Art Thibault, of FIRM AFFILIATION and representing the interests of management, and Craig Gumpel, of FIRM AFFILIATION an attorney representing labor, addressed both the sunset of Chapter 78 and other impending issues that will impact the next round of labor negotiations for municipalities and their labor units. From the management standpoint, Thibault sees the most significant part of negotiations to lie in the retiree sector. He believes that municipalities will be willing to negotiate higher for retirees, but will not be willing to move off of Phase 4. He also sees that management will face the trend of active employees looking to move from Tier 4 to Tier 2.

On the labor side, Gumpel does not see that labor will see any relief from the sunset of Chapter 78. He believes there will need to be a prevailing law to govern public employment contracts. While he stated there was a legislative bill proposed at the time of the session, he has not seem any new updates on its progress.

“Legislative bills will dictate bargaining strategy in the next set of negotiations,” said Thibault. Both attorneys believe that future negotiations will not be considerably easier than ones they have personally been involved with in recent years.

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