Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.
That’s Albert Einstein, who was just proven correct about the existence of gravitational waves. He’s also correct about stupidity. The evidence is NJEA’s profligate effort to sabotage New Jersey Senator Steve Sweeney’s re-election campaign because the Senate President did the math and realized that it would be irresponsible to hold a vote on fully funding pensions, currently $50 billion in the hole. So, in response, union leaders are backing a Trump-supporting, climate change-denying, immigration foe named Fran Grenier.
Concurrently, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case this term called Janus v. AFSCME. The plaintiff is Mark Janus, who works for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Human Services. He explained that “to keep my job at the state, I have to pay monthly fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a public employee union that claims to ‘represent’ me. I’m filing this case on behalf of all government employees who want to serve their community or their state without having to pay a union first.” Janus’ lawyers will argue that SCOTUS should overturn a 40-year-old decision called Abood v. City of Detroit Board of Education; then, the Court ruled that unions could require members to pay “agency fees,” which in N.J. are $900 per year, automatically deducted from every teacher’s paycheck (unless the member’s state legislature has passed a “right to work” law that bars compulsory fees. Currently 28 states are “right to work” states.)
Abood came very close to being overturned two years ago. In 2015 a teacher named Rebecca Friedrichs sued the California Teachers Association for compelling her to pay agency fees. During arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote, said it made “no sense” to tell teachers who “strongly, strongly disagree with the union position on teacher tenure, on merit pay, on merit promotion, on classroom size” that they need to pay the union to advance such positions. The consensus is that Friedrichs would have won if Justice Antonio Scalia hadn’t died. In the end, the Court split 4-4.
Earlier this year Trump replaced Scalia with Neil Gorsuch, who will likely vote with the conservative judges and be responsive to Janus’ rationale that “the union’s voice is not my voice” and “the union’s fight is not my fight.” If Abood is indeed overturned, unions will have to earn public workers’ trust and respect in order to collect newly-voluntary dues.
Which is the direct opposite of what NJEA leaders are currently doing. Instead, they are antagonizing their members, tuning out their outrage, and losing their trust.
Just listen to these teachers.
Gene Lopes: “As a teacher, I am extremely disappointed in NJEA’s position.”
Bob Spalding: “the NJEA leadership is just running a vendetta against Sweeney at the expense of New Jersey’s kids. Then again the union itself never has cared about education.”
Donna Ragonese: “I am a proud public school teacher, but I am ashamed of my union leadership at the NJEA.I implore fellow public school educators and NJEA members to disregard the dishonest junk mail and see what’s really going on here. We pay a considerable amount in dues from our relatively modest salaries to fund a handful of NJEA ‘leader’ salaries in the neighborhood of $500,000 a year. Think about that. They get paid close to/more than half a million dollars a year just to waste millions of dollars – many of which also come from our dues – to defeat a public school advocate and replace him with a Chris Christie stooge who kept cheerleading for Donald Trump even as he appointed Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. For the NJEA to support that agenda with our hard-earned money is an outrage that every self-respecting educator should condemn.”
These teachers echo Mark Janus: The union’s voice is not my voice. The union’s fight is not my fight.
Estimates vary regarding the loss of revenue if union membership becomes voluntary. No doubt some unions that respect their members’ views will earn the right to represent them.
But what about NJEA? When Senator Sweeney (an iron worker union member himself) wins — and odds are very high that he will — and continues in his seat as Senate President (he already has the votes for that), how beholden will he feel to the lobbying group that pulled out all the stops to defeat him? Thus far NJEA’s front office has spent $5 million of teacher member dues on anti-Sweeney propaganda and, in turn, forced the N.J. Democratic Party to devote just as much money on a race that should have been a shoo-in and take away money from other races for teacher-friendly progressive candidates.
And then there’s been all the ink on the outrageous salaries and benefits collected by NJEA’s chief officers: $1.2 million/year for Executive Director Ed Richardson and $764K average for all five officers, including President Marie Blistan. Meanwhile, NJEA members sit back and consider where their hard-earned money goes.
Where, by the way, is NEA’s sister union on this?
AFT President Randi Weingarten happens to be campaigning with Sweeney, telling Tom Moran that the Senator is “a sturdy friend of teachers, and students.”
“He’s fought for funding for those who need it most,” Weingarten says. “He’s fought for pre-k, for universities, for health care. He remembers he’s an ironworker, and he has working folks in his heart and on his sleeve. Of course, we’re going to support him over a Trump and Christie supporter.”