SONNY (standing in front of Tom, who's seated):Where’s Francis Ford Coppola when you need him? This week NJEA’s leadership played Sonny from "The Godfather" and went to the mattresses over a bill to increase contributions to health and pension premiums. As PolitickerNJ reports, this was a violent miscalculation that, if the Assembly lines up as anticipated tomorrow, will diminish NJEA members’ paychecks. Apparently Senator Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski met with the leadersof NJEA, CWA, and AFT last weekend as the union heads were becoming “nearly desperate.” A deal was put on the table:
No; no; no! No more! Not this time, consiglieri. No more meetin's, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks. You give'em one message: I want Sollozzo -- if not, it's all-out war we go to the mattresses..
The deal would have capped the salary contribution at 3 percent for the cheapest of the health care plans. Legislative and union leadership had reportedly been within striking distance of an agreement Wednesday before the talks fell apart. State Sen. President Steve Sweeney said the contribution cap was put aside once the unions demanded that the low-cost plan be set by statute as opposed to by a helath care committee with management and labor represented.Whether the rejection of the deal was due to hubris, defiance, or an anachronistic perception of power, teachers will now pay the price. (Perhaps NJEA President Barbara Keshishian should rethink her new slogan, "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” That’s another old movie reference, this one from “Network” released in 1976. If she’s modeling herself on Howard Beale, then the union’s really in trouble.)
That deal would also have removed a so-called sunset provision from the legislation and included a non-imposition clause that would preclude the governor from imposing his last best contract offer on public workers. The new proposal would have partially restored cost of living increases on pension payments.
Union leadership reportedly rejected that deal.
Bigger question: does this public demonstration of flawed strategy and waning power have an impact on NJ’s hopes for meaningful education reform?
Actually, NJEA can regain some relevancy by a proactive stance on anathema concepts like expanded school choice, tenure reform, and more rigorous teacher evaluations. The Christie Administration is already moving forward with a pilot of value-added evaluations based on student growth. The Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, while experiencing some growing pains, is expanding. Charter school accountability if being stepped up. Recalcitrance is so yesterday. Can the union become a player again by, well, playing?
Meanwhile, NJEA is planning another march across the Delaware River tomorrow with members dressed in Revolutionary War garb Is there any better depiction of irrelevancy than that? They’ll march across the river with pitchforks and muskets in their hands. And the Assembly will pass the bill. Here’s a different plan: get the focus off money and back on education by changing the conversation to ways to improve student performance. Talk about kids.