Sweeney's smear of N.J. teachers union is obnoxious and wrong-headed
These unions are no longer engaging in public advocacy issues focused on education of our children. Instead, they have made specific threats regarding specific legislative actions that benefit the pocketbooks of its members.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney said that.
A union representative himself, Sweeney made the statement during the recent stir caused by his radioactive decision to kill a vote putting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would help to secure the extremely insecure state pension fund for public workers.
Setting aside the merits (or lack thereof) regarding this decision, what followed boggles the mind.
Upon realizing that the senator was reneging on his previous commitment to getting the amendment on the ballot this year, the NJEA along with other prominent unions, feeling justifiably aggrieved, publicly contemplated withholding their PAC campaign contributions to state candidates for the November election.
By all appearances this is a perfectly legitimate political position to assume.
However, Sweeney with astonishing impudence responded by calling for a potential criminal investigation, accusing the unions through their actions of attempted extortion and bribery.
It seems the senate president may have fallen prey to Gov. Chris Christie's petty and persistent anti-union blather. Our jaded governor has made his feelings on the issue patently clear over the years, once referring to teachers unions — and by association teachers themselves — as "selfish and greedy." More recently, he made the ludicrous assertion that the union is "the single most destructive force for public education."
Yes, even more than poverty, apparently.
Christie has topped off these divisive attacks with a steadfast refusal to stick to his own pension reform law passed in 2011, consistently underfunding the pension system even as public workers continue to pay their fair share. Somehow, though, the governor has found the money to dole out nearly $6 billion and counting in corporate tax breaks while in office with little discernible benefit to the state economy.
When Sweeney claims that the NJEA is no longer focused on child education and advocacy but rather the financial well-being of union members, he reinforces an old canard ruthlessly brandished by ill-intentioned teacher's union detractors.
It conveys the false choice that NJEA members and leaders can't be deeply dedicated to their students while simultaneously insisting upon due respect for themselves and their profession.
Of course these conditions are not mutually exclusive. They are actually symbiotic.
In order to optimally help shape the academic, social, and emotional development of the next generation our public school educators need to feel a certain degree of security.
Public employees vested in the state system rightfully consider their pension not an entitlement but deferred compensation. A public employee pension has been described quite simply as a long-term, interest-free loan that public workers grant to the state with the reasonable expectation that they will be paid back at the point of retirement. It is money they earned.
It is quite understandable why a palpable sense of agitation has spread among the nearly one million public workers as this implicit pact is breached on the whims of politicians in Trenton.
How bitterly ironic when the threatened are charged with being threatening.
Perhaps Sweeney has forgotten the indispensable role unions actually play in a well-functioning society.
The Economic Policy Institute recently released a report asserting that unions help stave off income equality, highlighting how declining union membership has been a fundamental driver of this inequality over recent decades.
Another analysis, by the National Women's Law Center, revealed that unions significantly help narrow the troubling pay gap between men and women. Additionally, recent studies by Harvard University and the Washington Post have found a link between strong teacher unions and positive academic outcomes for students.
As Labor Day approaches — and our public school teachers soon welcome back their students with open arms and a full heart — let us remember to appreciate all public workers and the unions that fortify them.
Bill Cole is a school psychologist and a publicist for the Morris County Council of Education Associations (MCCEA).
About 100 NJEA members protested outside of Senate President Stephen Sweeney's West Deptford office on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016, calling for the legislator to post the pension bill so it can head to a referendum this November. NJEA President Marie Blistan addresses the crowd. (Caitlyn Stulpin | For NJ.com)Sweeney's smear of N.J. teachers union is obnoxious and wrong-headed | Opinion | NJ.com: