Thursday, April 14, 2016

UPDATE: @NJEA must stand with Atlantic City unions

In my previous post I called out NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer for siding with Gov. Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney in their takeover of Atlantic City. If Sweeney's bill (which Christie has said is the only bill he will sign) is passed, it will give the state sweeping powers over the city, including the right to suspend the collective bargaining agreements of the city's unions—except NJEA. However, recognizing and respecting the importance of labor's right to bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has proposed legislation that would establish benchmarks that must be met over a 2-year period before CBAs could be touched. NJEA is exempt from this bill, too. 

At a time when republican governors across this country are doing everything in their power to bust unions and deflate the middle class, and given Gov. Christie's long and very public history of malice toward and hatred of NJEA, the last thing Wendell Steinhauer should be doing is saying anything that remotely paints us as supporting him.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two bills courtesy of the NJ Professional Firefighters Association:

Why hasn't NJEA released something like this?

Instead, Steinhauer released this statement (in red) that appears to try to walk back his previous comments, but it still feels hollow:

We will hold the state accountable to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a quality public education to the children of Atlantic City. Under no circumstances will NJEA tolerate a scenario that closes Atlantic City’s public schools. 
On this we agree. But last week Wendell sided with Gov. Christie who filed a lawsuit against the city to force it to pay the school district with money it doesn't have because Christie reneged on his deal to give it to the city:

On April 8th, Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled in favor of the city allowing it to keep the money it had on hand and calling the state's lawsuit "political maneuvering". Another hearing date has been set for April 19th where the full case will be heard.

Why wasn't NJEA pushing Christie to make good on that payment in the first place?
“We support collective bargaining. NJEA unequivocally supports the hard-won collective bargaining rights of our members and other unionized public employees in New Jersey. Because both bills currently under consideration could affect collective bargaining, NJEA has not supported either bill. 
Prieto's bill could affect collective bargaining. Sweeney's bill will affect collective bargaining. Prieto has been very vocal and very clear about preserving CBAs. If NJEA "unequivocally support[s] the hard-won collective bargaining rights of... other unionized public employees", then why are we not supporting them by supporting Prieto's bill—especially when other state unions are?
“We stand with other unions. While our members are not directly affected by the proposed bills, our union colleagues are. NJEA stands behind those unions and their leaders as they work hard to protect and advocate for their members’ rights. 
How can we be standing behind them when we are not standing with them? 
“We defer to the other unions on issues relating primarily to their members. As the direct representatives of the affected employees, other unions are directly involved in discussions about the city’s future. NJEA will both support our union brothers and sisters and remain faithful to our commitment to collective bargaining. 
Of course we defer to the other unions in how they run their organizations, but if we stand back and do nothing, we are not supporting them. Period. 

Obviously, I'm happy our members will not be affected by either bill, but if we truly "support our union brothers and sisters and remain faithful to our commitment to collective bargaining", this is a funny way of showing it. Why isn't Wendell publicly lobbying for the passage of Prieto's bill the way the state firefighters are? Why isn't he organizing our members to stand with the city's unions against this hostile takeover? Why isn't he speaking out against the atrocity of a fellow member of labor (Sweeney) trying to wrench collective bargaining away from people who aren't making a whole lot of money to begin with?
“We advocate for our members. Our primary job is to advocate for our members who have already been affected by the deep cuts made to Atlantic City’s public schools last year. We have worked to advocate for our members and their students by supporting adequate funding of Atlantic City’s schools. That advocacy ensures that our members will continue working and their students will continue learning. We will continue to focus our efforts on doing that work successfully.” 
Agreed. We must advocate for our members and Atlantic City's schools so we can provide the best education to the city's children. So why isn't Wendell calling out Gov. Christie for suing the city for money he promised but never delivered—money that put the school district in the position it's in now? Instead, he is supporting Christie's actions which could further hurt the schools. Again:

“We stand with Atlantic City. The residents of Atlantic City are caught in a difficult situation that they did not create. They still need strong schools, safe communities and the other basic services that every city must provide.  Our members, and members of other unions, provide those services. Many are also Atlantic City residents themselves. We must all work together to find a just, lasting solution for Atlantic City.”
We do not stand with Atlantic City if our association does not support the Prieto bill. This seems like a no-brainer. Both bills give us what we want. If we are indeed the most powerful union in the state, why aren't we using that power to help the other unions and in turn help Atlantic City?

What will happen to the city if/when even more people are laid off, or their salaries and benefits are cut, or they lose their pensions—that they paid into? Where in that scenario does NJEA come out looking like we support the city and its residents?

As I said in my previous post, the Chicago Teachers Union has Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the ropes because they have built strong coalitions with the public and other labor unions. NJEA is blowing it on this one.

I am disgusted and appalled. If you are, too, contact NJEA today: 609-599-4561. Leadership's emails are listed below. 

Thank you NJ Bats for the meme!