The PTHEA has reached a settlement with the Board of Education on the 40% Opt-Out Grievance. As you may recall, this was the issue agreed upon during negotiations that ended with the ratification of the current contract in February 2012. This “opt-out” provision would have provided members who had the ability to terminate all personal insurance coverage, to do so in return for 40% of the annual premium of their previous insurance coverage.
Immediately following ratification, however, the Board refused to pay this amount making several arguments, including ambiguity of the language, suggesting it was either a percentage of the difference between the premium and the mandated contribution amount, only a percentage of the contribution, and even that the percentage couldn’t be higher than 25% according to a new state law. Additionally, after a year had passed, the Board balked at the possibility of retroactive payments to those members who had already opted-out, even if we reached a settlement.
At a conference at the NJEA Uniserve Office on June 25th, we settled on an agreement that the Board would annually pay members who “opted-out” 40% of the premium less the mandatory contribution amount. This payment would be retroactive to the point that a member opted-out of her/his insurance (minus the $2,000 annual payment for giving up dependent coverage, if that payment was made). Retro payments will be issued this summer.
Additionally, an open-enrollment period will be established throughout the summer, ending on September 15, 2014, to allow members to opt-out if they are able. This settlement will continue through the life of our current contract, and even beyond July 2015, should we fail to reach a new contract agreement by that time.
This agreement doesn’t give us everything that we believed we deserved as per the original agreement, but there was a legitimate risk of losing quite a bit, perhaps everything, at an arbitration hearing. At that point, everything would have been on the table, including reducing the amount below 40%, reducing the total reimbursement amount, and denying a retroactive payment. Our NJEA advisors agree with this settlement; it preserves significant compensation for those members so eligible, retroactive payment for all members, and provides for the possibility of some kind of similar language in the next contract.