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County College Teachers Voice Healthcare Concerns to Freeholders

Deal With Middlesex County Joint Health Insurance Fund Questioned by Union
Ronald Rios
Ronald Rios defended the county government's health insurance fund as MCC faculty criticized it. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Professors and faculty of Middlesex County College appeared before the county's Board of Chosen Freeholders on October 12, and voiced their concerns regarding the “unfortunate” state of their school.

A half-dozen employees of the college addressed a myriad of issues at the public meeting, including soaring textbook prices, high healthcare costs, and insufficient numbers of qualified teachers.

The biggest controversy centered around the Middlesex County Joint Health Insurance Fund (JHIF), which provides the plan that covers the teachers and faculty of Middlesex County College.

The JHIF costs the county up to $50,000 per worker, Chuck Dolan, a technical services librarian at the college, explained that a comparable health plan would cost the county only up to $30,000, while maintaining the same benefits.

“If Middlesex county workers and citizens are paying so much more for a comparable policy, who is benefitting from the arrangement?” asked Dolan.

Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios responded that it would be “inappropriate” to discuss contracts involving Middlesex workers.

“We’re not gonna get involved in discussions about contract language," said Rios.  "I’m not gonna make any comments about it.”

Freeholder Director Rios opened the formal meeting with a cheery State of the County address, highlighting some “exciting” news throughout Middlesex.

“Our proposal to build Amazon’s second headquarters here, in Middlesex County's seat, is among the among the top four proposals from throughout the state,” he said.

However, when the meeting opened up to the public, representatives of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 1940 berated the current Freeholders for supposedly ignoring their concerns.

“They used to listen to us: they don’t now,” said Jerry Olsen, a faculty member at Middlesex County College and county resident for 43 years.

“This administration continues to ignore faculty recommendations from hiring committees and task forces, unlike previous ones who formed a working relationship with faculty to serve the students and the College community,” Olsen told the board.

Virgil Blanco, Secretary of Local 1940 and Director of the Center for the Enrichment of Learning and Teaching, echoed Olsen’s concerns: “I’m sure that you have no idea of the needs of our students. If you were aware...you would have a more sympathetic outlook towards what’s going on at the college.”

Freeholder Director Rios declined to comment.

But, as Dolan explained, “It’s not just the college...it’s the Middlesex county employees overall, and the added cost obviously is being paid for by all Middlesex County taxpayers.”

A lengthy silence ensued, and Dolan returned to his seat.