Judge orders striking teachers in Jersey City back to work on Monday; it’s uncertain if they’ll return

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Children sitting in an auditorium watching movies all day, as their teachers marched outside, protesting; heated confrontations between picketing teachers and the substitute teachers who'd been offered double pay to replace them; police posted at every corner around schools in case tempers flared too intensely. They were all scenes of Day 1 of the teachers strike here. The question now is, will the teachers' union and the school board reach some sort of agreement. Whether or not they do anytime soon, teachers have been ordered by a judge to return to work next Monday.

On Friday, it was clear that the 3,100 educators in this school district of 31,000 students are fed up. After more than half a year without a contract, the union members decided to walk out. Between Thursday evening and Friday morning, a contract offers were sought and made, but ultimately there was an impasse between the union and the Jersey City Board of Education.

The union, which is called the Jersey City Education Association, or JCEA, informed members of the strike Thursday night, and the school board tried to notify families that Friday would be a half day of school.

Ronald Cuffy, a special education teacher who'd spent the morning on the picket line watching his students, said that it hurt to be out of the classroom, but was necessary. "Some of the kids were waving at me, or hitting on the glass," he said about seeing the students arrive on the bus, "and there's nothing I can do."

Meanwhile, some students told PIX11 News that they were disappointed in the way the day had gone, without their teachers.

"We didn't have class," said sixth grader Karen Foxworth. "We stayed in the auditorium with the principal, and guidance counselor. It was noisy. It was a lot of kids."

Jersey City's mayor, Steven Fulop, who is not directly involved in the negotiations, told PIX11 News in an interview that one of his top priorities is to ensure that students, picketing teachers and the teachers' possible replacements are safe.

He assured families that police would be on hand at schools across this city of 250,000 to ensure that things run smoothly. He was also critical of how classes had been put on hold at most of the city's schools. "We're not supportive of 1200 people in an auditorium," the mayor said, "or an entire school in one room. That's not safe either."

The main point of contention between the union and the board of education is the cost of health care.

"You're paying fifteen hundred bucks a month for health insurance," said Ron Greco, the union president. "It's very burdensome at this point. Many people have foreclosed on homes, gotten rid of cars."

Since 2011, New Jersey teachers have been required to pay for their own health insurance. They contend that it's too expensive.

For its part, the Board of Education said on Friday afternoon, in a statement that read, in part, "While teachers are asking for salary increases and a reduction in what they pay for their health insurance, the District is facing a $70 million dollar shortfall."

The board has offered a 6.2 percent salary increase over two years. The union turned it down.

Meanwhile, on Friday evening, the Jersey City Board of Education released another statement.

“This afternoon,” the statement read, “the Jersey City Board of Education filed an Order to Show Cause against the JCEA. A judge has granted the district preliminary injunctive relief which orders teachers back to work for Monday. The Board remains committed to finding a resolution.”