Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pensions, Politics and Those Pesky Public Employees Part 1

Gov. Christie gets 4 Pinocchios

Yesterday dozens of NJEA members took to the streets in various communities to engage in and inform our members about the fight to save our pensions. My partner and I canvassed these Trenton neighborhoods:

To be clear, these are not our members' homes, but our members live on these streets...

Yes, these are the Trenton neighborhoods where all those "greedy" and "selfish" public employees with their "Cadillac" benefits and "jobs for life" live—just like another public employee, Gov. Christie: 

And now that he's been reduced to fetching coffee for Donald Trump, his ego bruised, he's back at what he really loves to do. No, not governing NJ. I'm talking about teacher—bashing.

Here's Christie last week stumping for his "Fairness Funding" Apartheid School Funding Formula:

I give this video 4 Pinocchios for the 4 basic lies he tells: 

1. "I love public school teachers." Call me crazy, but I have never seen nor heard any evidence to back up this statement. If you have, please by all means, post a link in the comments.  

2. "There's no way in any profession other than that one you get a job for life after 3 years, 'cause you get tenure after 3 years."
I guess all that time out of state gave Christie a severe case of amnesia because he has completely forgotten that he pushed for and signed the TeachNJ law that extended the time it takes to earn tenure to four years! And as for the "job for life" comment, anybody with half a brain knows that is simply not true. But Christie has never let the facts get in the way of a good talking point. Which leads me to #3... 

3. "And after 20 years, you get pension and health benefits for life." Well... I do pay into my pension every two weeks, just like anyone else pays into their retirement plans (which is way more than the state has done in the last 20 years), so why shouldn't I expect to receive my deferred compensation for the rest of my life when I retire? And he fails to mention that, under Chapter 78, the law he pushed for and signed, public employees now contribute more into our pensions, work more than 20 years before we can retire, and get less when we do. And as for those "health benefits for life"? Wrong again! State employees who were not grandfathered into the Ch. 78 reforms must pay a percentage of their health benefits when they retire.

4. The 4th lie he tells isn't on this video, but it has to do with his proposed $6600 per pupil school funding formula and how it will solve the problems of all high-poverty/high-needs school districts and magically reduce property taxes. Read Jersey Jazzman here and here for all the facts and figures 'cause you won't find them anywhere in Christie's messaging. And PS: before the 2% property tax cap went into effect, property taxes went up an average of 20% in NJ, so don't hold your breath waiting for any big tax breaks to materialize.

No, Christie doesn't want the average taxpayer who doesn't follow politics every waking minute to know that the state unions were forced to accept many concessions in Ch. 78 with the expectation that he would uphold his end of the bargain by making the required pension payments—but didn't. It's so much easier to make stuff up and sell it to unsuspecting taxpayers under the premise of #TellingItLikeItIs (and you know how well that hashtag worked out once we hijacked it).

On Monday, August 1st, the state senate may possibly vote on SCR-2 which, if approved, would put a question on the November ballot to engrave state pension payments into our constitution, and that is driving Christie nuts. Not only does he want to defund public education further, he wants to crush the unions—period. The only thing stopping him from becoming another right-to-work-(for less) governor like Scott Walker or Rick Snyder is the Democratically-controlled state legislature. 

So, the next time someone tries to tell you that state workers have it great, that we have cushy jobs and great benefits, show them this post. Show them the pictures of the neighborhoods in which some of our members live. Tell them that many of our members who are working full time also collect food stamps. Share the stories of your co-workers who have been living on the edge of financial disaster since Ch. 78 was signed into law, whose take home pay has decreased every year since, who have lost (or almost lost) their homes as a result, who were forced to leave the profession to find a higher-paying job in the private sector. Remind them of all the give-backs and concessions we've made and the promises that Gov. Christie has broken. Educate them on how important unions are to a thriving middle class and the New Jersey economy.

Then tell them to vote Yes on the Constitutional Amendment ballot question in November because if it fails, and the pension system goes bust, the sky really will be falling on Chicken Little Gov. Christie.

Part 2: How GOP politicians spin the tale of 'greedy unions' for their political gain.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Dear @NJEA Members, This is Urgent!

Hey you. Yea, you, NJEA member. The one working those part time jobs to make it through the summer. The one who is fortunate enough to not have to work in the summer to make ends meet. The one dipping into your retirement funds to make it through the summer. The one who has no time to advocate because you're just trying to keep your head above water. I'm talking to you

You need to stop what you're doing right now and read this.

See that counter on the right side of this screen? That's counting down to D-Day: the day the NJ pension system runs dry. That's right, I said, 'dry' as in running out of money. That's 10.45 years. For everyone. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E. Doesn't matter if you're a first year teacher or a 20 year retiree. There is no grandfather clause, no sliding scale. Nothing. Nada. Zippo. Say buh-bye to your future and hello to working til you drop.

If you don't know by now, the pension system has been grossly underfunded by the state for the past 20 years, even though we have been making our regularly scheduled payments (and then-some, thanks to Gov. Christie and Ch.78), and are now forced to work more years and get less in return. Our retired members are feeling the hit too because their cost of living adjustments have been frozen.

This situation is dire and it's not going to get any better if we sit back and do nothing.

It's that bad.

But that's not going to happen because we are a union, and unions work together. We stick together. We fight together. And we win together... and we are going to win this battle.

Right now approximately 300 specifically-designated NJEA Pension Fellows (myself included) are working hard to engage all 200,000 of us in the fight to save our pensions. 

Notice I didn't say, "engage the state legislature". I said, "engage all 200,000 of us". That's right, 300 of your fellow members cannot fix this problem alone, but 200,000 of us sure can.

We are working 5 days a week making member outreach phone calls and knocking on members' doors to inform and engage every single one of us to take action. In the first two days alone we made over 3800 phone calls and wrote countless postcards!

Right now the Assembly has approved the November ballot question to engrave funding the pension system into our state constitution. The Senate must also do so, but Senate President Steve Sweeney has yet to post the bill for a vote. If the vote doesn't happen by August 8, or if the vote fails in the Senate, there will be no ballot question, and we go back to square one... with that clock still ticking down to zero.

So, here are six easy things you can do right now:
  1. Go do VoteNJPension and sign up to become a Pension Activist. This is different from the Pension 'Fellows'. An activist is a voluntary position. You will receive text messages with updates and actions such as contacting legislators, and engaging friends and family to vote.
  2. Contact your State Senator—preferably today—and urge him or her to push Sen. Sweeney to post SCR-2 for a vote, and tell them you want them to vote Yes on it.
  3. Contact Sen. Sweeney directly and tell him to post SCR-2. His contact info: (856) 251-9801 or (856) 339-0808; Don't worry, you won't get him on the phone. You will either get an answering machine or an aide who will take your information.
  4. Get informed. Read through What You Need To Know so that you can give factual information to those who may have questions or who think the pension system isn't worth saving.
  5. Contact one of the field offices we have set up for the summer and volunteer. Even if none of these are near you, there are many opportunities to volunteer your time in your community:

    NJEA Trenton Headquarters
    180 W. State St.

    NJEA Higher Education Office
    Golden Crest Corporate Center
    2279 State Highway 33, Suite 508
    Hamilton Square

    NJEA Region 11/12 Office
    Raritan Plaza II
    91 Fieldcrest Ave, Suite A3

    Gloucester Co. Education Association
    190 N. Evergreen Ave, Suite 108

    NJEA Stanhope Office
    23 Route 206

    NJEA Region 3 Office
    1020 Laurel Oak Rd.
  6. Make sure every member of your family who is able to do so is registered to vote. This website lets you do it online.
Friends, there really is no other way to say this. We can't sugar coat it or push it off on someone else. We need every single one of us taking action. Can you imagine Sen. Sweeney's office receiving 200,000 phone calls? He can't say No to that.

So please, make a commitment today to do your part. We all have worked too hard to simply let our pensions dissolve into thin air. And I think it's pretty safe to say that there aren't too many of us who can survive retirement without them. I know I can't.

Let's do this!

#TeamTrenton rocking the vote!

Friday, July 15, 2016

My thank you letter to @BernieSanders

Mother's Day 2016, Rutgers University Rally

Dear Senator Sanders,

I am so sorry that you will not be the Democratic candidate for President, but I wanted to personally thank you for all you did. Your efforts were not in vain. Sadly, our nation is not yet ready for a leader who doesn't just talk the talk, but also walks the walk. Your profound and honest commitment to speaking out against the grave social injustices heaped on far too many Americans got many in Washington and on Wall St. squirming—and that's a good thing. 

Someone once said that candidates campaign with poetry and lead with prose, but you did just the opposite. Your direct, no-nonsense approach left no doubt where your priorities would be as president.

Thank you for raising the consciousness of the American people and engaging millions of our youth in the political process. You spoke to them and for them. It will be interesting to see if they remain engaged enough to actually vote in November. We need them now more than ever. 

Thank you for speaking directly to me. In the almost 40 years that I have been voting, no other candidate's words resonated like yours. Every time I turned on the news you were speaking about issues that are directly affecting my quality of life every single day. You didn't give lip service. Instead you offered real, reasonable solutions.  

Thank you for forcing this nation to look at its shame of poverty and income inequality, and for airing the dirty laundry of those who want to keep it that way.

Thank you for being the voice of the poor, the working poor and the middle class—all of whom have, over the past 40 years, been forced several more rungs down the already rickety ladder of success at the hands of the super wealthy and the politicians whom they have purchased. 

Thank you for staying in the race when many talking heads said you should get out. By staying in as long as you did you forced the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton to adopt parts of your platform they shied away from. Universal healthcare, free college tuition, everyone paying their fare share in taxes, and a real living wage are not fantasies. They are a reality in many industrialized countries, and they should be so in the wealthiest nation on earth. They help give everyone a a chance to achieve their dreams.

Thank you for shining a light on the rusted, antiquated two-party system that simply does not give independent thinkers a legitimate shot at state and local races. As President Obama's achievements have shattered the glass ceiling for minority leaders, so too has your campaign for those who think outside the box.

It's deeply saddening that for millions of Americans, this race is not about voting for the best candidate, but voting for the least objectionable. But I am an eternal optimist. The revolution you champion cannot and will not be forced back into a bottle. Our next president will be forced to listen to our demands because they are our needs

America cannot continue on its collision course with inequity, but I know that, no matter who our next president is, you will continue to fight for those who have been unfairly blamed for our country's malaise. 

Like you, I will be supporting Hillary Clinton. Not to do so would be handing a vote to Donald Trump, and I simply will not do that. I am deeply disappointed at how the national Democratic Party handled this primary, but as you are doing, I have to put aside my personal feelings and work to make sure Trump is defeated. 

It was an honor and a pleasure to meet you in person at the Rutgers University rally on Mothers Day. I brought my 16 year old daughter with me because she will be voting in two years, and I wanted her to experience a piece of the political revolution that has started in this country and to hear from someone on its forefront. I want her to know that there really are elected officials who follow words with deeds; that there really are some who are fighting for us.

Even though your campaign is over, I know that you will continue to fight for the majority of Americans as you have done throughout your entire career.

I wish you good health, happiness and some much-needed rest. And I look forward to your continued efforts on behalf of all Americans.