Sunday, October 2, 2016

Pensions Politics & Those Pesky Public Employees Pt.2

Back to School & The #RightToWork For Less

Note: This post is long overdue, but sometimes I just gotta take a break and re-charge my batteries.

You can read Part 1 of this series here.

On Labor Day we honored the American middle class. Once the backbone of this country, labor unions helped lift vast numbers of American workers out of poverty, gave them safe, well-paying jobs, allowed them to live their American Dream while building the American landscape, and set our economy firing on all cylinders.

But the backbone of this nation is now bent and weak. Many unions are no more, and wages are down in direct correlation. The US is now a majority 'right-to-work' nation. The American middle class is shrinking. And despite a report released last month showing we had our "best year of economic improvement" in decades, it "did not fully repair the damage inflicted by the Great Recession." Some of us will never fully recover. 

Makes me all giddy inside.


September is always rough on education professionals. Contrary to 'reformy' rhetoric, I was not sunning myself on the beaches in the South of France all summer. No, I was on unpaid furlough. Granted, I did work this summer at an amazing job (more on that in another post). But, while many people are enjoying barbecues with family and friends over Labor Day weekend, many of us are digging through sofa cushions and raiding our kids' piggy banks to make September's mortgage payment.

This is my 15th year in the teaching profession and 14th as a proud NJEA member. I have a masters degree and graduated summa cum laude from college, and I have finally reached point in my salary guide where I feel like I'm earning a respectable wage for the work I do. I'm not complaining. I knew going in that I would never be a millionaire, but when I looked at that pay stub, I must admit that I was disappointed once again. 

Despite a decent raise, I'm only taking home about $44 more a week. I guess I shouldn't complain. There are many public employees still stuck in the mire of Chapter 78 and are still seeing their paychecks decrease every year—a phenomenon we call "net negative" return. And there are education professionals in other states who fare far, far worse (more on that below). My local is one of the lucky ones. We bargained out of Chapter 78, but that doesn't mean we're rolling in dough. Soon, $44 a week won't even buy me a tank of gas.

So, where does all my money go? The biggest deductions outside of the standard state and federal taxes are—contrary to what 'reformies' would have you believe— not for union dues. No, they're for pension and health benefits—those 'Cadillac' benefits Gov. Christie loves to accuse us of lolling in while he lolls here:

Chez Christie
... or scopes out pricey real estate at the Jersey shore for life aprés politics.

Those vital health care benefits and deferred compensation that—thanks to Ch. 78—I now pay more for, work longer to receive, and get less of in retirement. But my dues deduction for that big, bad 'ole union that is sucking the life out of me and preventing me from taking home oodles of dough is less than 1/7 of what I contribute for pension and benefits combined

But, 'right-to-work' (for less) 'reformies' like the National Right to Work Committee, funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers and molded by countless hours in ALEC meetings, would have the general public believe that, if it wasn't for those damned greedy unions and the outrageous dues they fleece from their members, business would flourish! Workers would do fantastically, wonderfully well on the open market! We would suddenly command 6-figure salaries! Our careers and lives would be magically transformed for the better!

We know that the only entities right-to-work laws benefit are corporations. According to the IBEW:
"Right-to-work is part of a national anti-worker agenda that won't bring one job to the state or help a single family put food on the table," said Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. 
Right-to-work laws weaken workers' ability to collectively bargain by making it harder for unions to collect dues, driving down wages and benefits. The average worker in a right-to-work state makes $1,500 less a year than his counterpart in union-friendly states. 
Employees in pro-worker states are also more likely to have job-based health benefits. (emphasis mine)
How bad is it in right-to-work states? Consider Wisconsin. WEA members now face this every day:
  • No due process protections
  • No right to collectively bargain anything
  • Teachers resigning in droves
  • Schools of education enrollments plummeting
  • Gender-discriminating dress codes that force female teachers to wear longer skirts and closed-toe shoes

And in right-to-work-for-even-less, North Carolina, lawmakers have taken it a step further, eliminating salary increases for post bachelors degrees. How would you like to go to bed at night with these stats invading your dreams?

So, what do I get in return for those dues which Gov. Christie—in his $4,000 Cartier gold cufflinksand some of his GOP cronies in the New Jersey state legislature call outrageous and outlandish? Well, for less than what I pay for my cell phone bill every month I get this:

  • Due process protection. The reassurance that, if a whistle needs to be blown, a student needs to be protected, a wrong needs to be made right, or an administrator just doesn't like me, there is a legal process through which I can state my case. Contrary to 'reformy' spin, it won't provide me with a job for life.
  • Professional development. The NJEA Convention is one of the largest and most comprehensive professional development conferences in the country. And yes, I do attend, and if you're an NJEA member, you should, too.
  • Equal pay for equal work. Union salary guides guarantee that I won't make 70¢ on the dollar simply because of my gender or my age; and my credentials and experience—not my cronyism—drive my compensation.
  • Support. Like any family, my union brothers and sisters and I don't always see eye-to-eye, but when push comes to shove, we are all on the same page when it comes to providing our students with one of the best public education systems in the country. And no, that system didn't come from Christie, Cerf, Hespe and Company. It came from us—200,000 strong—doing our jobs every single day, despite sometimes overwhelming odds and under tremendous pressure to solve all the ills of the world.
  • Help. Education professionals know there are no 'failing' districts in this state. We know
    the issues some schools face go far deeper than a 'pass/fail' label. We know that the solution isn't to close schools and disrupt communities. And we know that our union provides help that is SMART—not some rhetoric-filled, pie-in-the-sky mumbo-jumbo devised by people who've never set foot in a classroom.
  • Political Power to endorse candidates and affect election outcomes. And, more than anything else, that's something 'reformy' folk desperately want to take away from us, because once they control the vote, they control everything.
There ain't no 'reformy' organization that will ever provide any of this (and more) to people who work in right-to-work-for-less states. The only things you are guaranteed are job insecurity and less take home pay.

So, when Gov. Christie and Co. make stupid comments like this:
"What we know now is, more money alone does not translate into a better education," Christie said. "Better teaching methods, more instruction time and improved educational programs make the difference."  
Allowing the status quo to continue would be "criminal," Christie said. 
... I can say true, more money alone—without an evidence-based plan—won't make a difference. And neither will less. And neither will the 'status quo' which is not what Christie accuses us of perpetrating. Quite the opposite. These days the 'status quo' is the cockamamie schemes he and his puppets at the DOE come up with to cut that money from school budgets—especially those most in need. The 'status quo' is drill and kill, punish students, punish teachers, close schools, flip 'em to charters, and hold us all accountable for their failures.

The status quo is not professional educators being given the resources and support to do great things in the classroom. No, the status quo is Gov. Christie telling the world how horrible our poorest and neediest schools and students are, how "greedy and selfish" their educators are, and us fighting him tooth and nail.

The only things standing between Gov. Christie and the complete annihilation of public education in New Jersey are the unions— NJEA and AFT—and the sensible and reasonable elected officials in Trenton who know that he is nothing more than a shill for the corporate 'reform' movement.

So, when I look at my paycheck and see that dues deduction, I know it's a small price to pay for the continued welfare of our students and our state's future.

402 more days until Gov. Christie's reign of terror comes to an end. We can do this.

Wishing you all a successful and fulfilling 2016-2017 school year.