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Last week Mike Lilley of Sunlight Policy Center published the startling news that in 2019 state teachers union executive director Ed Richardson received $2.5 million in compensation.
The shock waves are reverberating strongly enough that NJEA top brass have issued a defense.
But how do you defend the indefensible? The average New Jersey teacher makes $77,000 a year and pays the highest union dues in the nation while their leaders get salaries that are twice as high as of executives in the national office and four times as high as teacher union executives in Pennsylvania and New York.
And it’s not just an Ed Richardson thing: in 2019 the top 10 highest-paid leaders at NJEA made a total of $7.7 million, courtesy of NJ teachers.
On Wednesday the Star-Ledger Editorial Board leaned in, noting that while NJEA professes its mission to be “assisting all members in the economic, professional, and social advancement of their condition,… its 200,000 members are excused if they wonder whether their union has different priorities.” The Ledger also points out that while rank-and-file teachers had their cost of living increases eliminated in 2011, the execs get annual 2.5% increases and while the teacher pension plan is severely underfunded at 35%,“the union’s own pension fund is massively overstuffed.” (For a thorough analysis of how poorly teachers fare in NJ, see here.)
NJEA’s defense came in two parts. Spokesman Steve Baker told the Ledger that Richardson didn’t really make $2.5 million but only $338,000 because he wouldn’t get the other $1.8 million until he retired. (He retired in late 2019.)
The second part was an official response on NJEA’s (ironically-titled?) “Center for Honesty.” The rebuttal doesn’t contest a single fact from Lilley’s report, a tacit concession that the math is accurate. Instead, members are advised to block all emails from Sunlight because it’s a “right-wing platform” with an “anti-union agenda.” Also, “organizations that seek to undermine union membership usually have financial motives.” (Lilley doesn’t have any financial motives.)
Why is NJEA’s rebuttal so shallow? Maybe because the front office assumes the majority of NJ teachers are just fine with paying the highest dues in the nation in order to fund outrageous compensation for execs and $100 million ad campaigns for Phil Murphy who, after all, signed a bill that makes it extraordinarily difficult for members to resign from the union.
Sure, teachers aren’t in it for the money but how about their leaders? From all appearances, the goal of the top brass is to maintain the status quo, regardless of the cost to their members. As the Ledger Editorial Board concludes, “the top executives at the New Jersey Education Association – an unrivaled financial and political juggernaut in this state – can no longer deny that they’re in it for the payday.”