finger-people

Union Power At Work in New Jersey

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New Jersey Education Association officials use intimidation tactics not only on unwilling teachers but politicians also. David Cantor has the story in the74million.org.

The New Jersey Education Association, the second- or third-largest state affiliate of the National Education Association (depending on whether you count the hybrid New York state union), has in recent months offered a refreshingly straightforward exercise of political power.

Unions are threatened on many sides, but NJEA’s approach seems to have served it well. It maintains 13 lobbyists in Trenton, according to Philly.com, and spent more than twice as much as any other group in the state between 1999 and 2014. In 2016, it ranked second in the state, with $2.6 million spent on communications alone; by contrast, AARP ranked fifth with $398,000.

It lets its leadership know they’re loved: The union’s 10 highest earners averaged $600,000 in 2013 and $425,000 in 2014. In 2013, four NJEA executives earned more than $700,000, including two who clocked in at $899,062 and $818,112, respectively. Some of this was deferred compensation, but the pay dwarfs earnings of NEA’s national leaders; of leaders of the much larger teachers unions in California, New York, and New York City; of affiliate and national leadership of other unions; and of high-spending trade groups like the nearby New Jersey Hospital Association.

It is pouring hundreds of thousands — probably millions by the fall elections — into ads, mailings, and campaign organizing to replace South Jersey’s favorite son, a powerfully built union ironworker who has run the upper chamber since 2009 and never lost an election.

In his place, NJEA is backing a county Republican party leader named Fran Grenier.

Grenier supported Donald Trump for president. He was a member of the electrical workers union, but the president of his local, which is supporting Sweeney, said he is “not a union guy.”

How, then, does Grenier become the champion of one of the nation’s most powerful teachers unions, whose positions otherwise echo Bernie Sanders?

The NJEA website echoes García, saying Trump has launched “a direct assault on public education, children and working families.”

Neither NJEA nor NEA officials responded to calls asking for clarification. In a June statement, NJEA cited “Sweeney’s anti-union record and lack of honesty with NJEA members” as reasons for endorsing Grenier.

The relationship between Sweeney and the union has been souring for years, dating at least to his 2011 support for pension reforms NJEA strongly opposed.

He subsequently accused the union of bribery and extortion, saying it threatened to withhold contributions to Democratic party officials unless they supported pension legislation.

The union’s real hope, Dworkin believes, is not so much winning as making a statement.

“As long as they keep it close, they put everyone else on notice,” he said in an interview. “They’re making Sweeney focus on his own district. That says to every legislator, if you cross them repeatedly, they’re going to come after you; there’s a cost. If they lose, they still win.”

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