Categories: News

New Jersey Teachers Are Getting a Raw Deal From Their Union

According to a new report by Mike Lilley at the Sunlight Policy Center, New Jersey teachers’ enthusiasm and support for their union’s politicking has dropped dramatically over the last few years. In order to compensate for NJEA’s lack of foot soldiers, union leaders are out-sourcing their Get Out The Vote (GOTV) actions to outside vendors as the gulf between teachers and union leaders’ priorities widens. Yet teachers are still forced to foot the bill through their highest-in-the-country dues for NJEA’s political activities.

Here are some of the highlights from Lilley’s new report called “New Jersey Teachers Want to Teach, Not Play Politics.”

  • Few active teachers are interested in funding the NJEA’s political activities or participating in GOTV efforts. Over the past decade, donations to the NJEA’s traditional political action committee (PAC) plummeted by 28%. Only two active teachers contributed to NJEA PAC in 2022: 99.9% of NJEA PAC contributions came from retired teachers.
  • Since 2013, the NJEA has spent at least $981,287 for paid canvassers, phone banks and other GOTV services, often from entities outside the state. Its most expensive vendor is the Working Families Alliance, based in Brooklyn. (Sue Altman, the head of NJ WFA, has a Brooklyn email address.) “The NJEA’s GOTV efforts are increasingly being conducted by paid political operatives from outside New Jersey.” Lilley says this means professional political operatives are coming into New Jersey from out of state to perform GOTV for the NJEA.
  • NJEA’s main super PAC relies on voluntary contributions, which have bottomed out. So NJEA is relying on its other PAC, Garden State Forward, which “simply appropriates teachers’ regular dues and spends them how and where it sees fit,” regardless of teachers’ political leanings. Over eight years, teacher dues funded Garden State Forward to the tune of $52 million, six time more than the amount of money in NJEA’s main PAC.
  • During the 2022 election cycle, Lilley “received on-the-ground confirmation that the NJEA is having difficulty getting its members involved in political campaigns,” particularly for school board elections: “In Ocean Township, in a September emergency meeting of the Township of Ocean Education Association (TOEA), TOEA leadership remarked that ‘generally speaking, our participation numbers are poor and more people need to get involved.’ They noted that only 22 out of 200 TOEA members even bothered to respond to a survey seeking more active participation in TOEA training and activities.”

Lilley concludes,

Once again, New Jersey teachers are getting a raw deal from the NJEA. They may not want to play politics, but NJEA leadership does, and leadership is perfectly content to force teachers to pay for it. The result is a NJEA political machine that is increasingly detached from New Jersey teachers and forced to outsource its GOTV efforts to often out-of-state vendors.


Laura Waters

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