At an August 8, 2016, protest in Trenton organized by New Jersey’s largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the public union Communications Workers of America, stood in solidarity with the NJEA and declared that “we don’t just stand for our members, but for the 99 percent who demand an economic system that doesn’t give all the benefit to the one percent.”
The assembled NJEA members cheered. Little did they know they were condemning their own leadership. That’s right: according to NJEA’s latest tax filings, the highest compensated employees of the NJEA have an average compensation that puts them well into the top one percent of New Jersey earners.
The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute determined that in 2013 a worker would have to earn $548,000 to be in the top one percent of earners in New Jersey. The other 99% earned an average of $57,000. Nationwide, it took $389,000 to be a “one-percenter,” while the average for the 99% was $46,000.
According to NJEA’s 2013 federal tax filings, the 11 highest compensated NJEA employees averaged total compensation of $582,000 for the year. All but one of the 11 are in the top one percent nationwide (the one outlier barely missed at $358,000), and five are in the top one percent in New Jersey. Each of those five had compensation of $658,000 or more and averaged $760,000, placing them even higher among New Jersey’s one-percenters.
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Also revealing is the fact that in 2013 the elected officers of the NJEA — the president, the past-president and the vice president — were among the lowest paid of the NJEA leaders. The top five were all on the NJEA professional staff in the Executive Office or in UniServ (a network of state-level NJEA political professionals providing services to local affiliates). Vince Giordano, a past Executive Director led the pack at $899,000. Rounding out the top five were Edward Richardson, the current Executive Director, at $704,000; Rich Gray, Assistant Executive Director, at $721,000; Zella Felzenberg, Assistant Director of Uniserv, at $658,000; and Information Systems manager Bruce Ionno at $818,000. The fact that all but Ionno are political pros tells all you need to know about NJEA’s priorities.
To put those earnings in perspective, on average, the 11 highest compensated NJEA employees earned over 10 times what a New Jersey “ninety-nine-percenter” earned. The top five earned over 13 times more. The average New Jersey teacher earned about $69,000 in 2013, so the 11 NJEA bosses averaged almost 8.5 times what the average teacher made and the top five averaged over 11 times more.
So when NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer decries “income inequality” in New Jersey, does he mean the inequality between NJEA leadership and New Jersey teachers and citizens? When he criticizes policies that benefit the wealthy over “the needs of the middle class,” does he have his “one-percenter” NJEA colleagues in mind?
The combined 2013 compensation for all 11 of NJEA’s highest compensated employees came to $6,400,000. That’s a lot of union dues out of the pockets of hard-working teachers averaging over 11 times less than their top bosses — teachers whose dues are automatically withheld from their paychecks by local districts. And that’s a lot of taxpayer dollars from the 99% of New Jersey citizens who average over 13 times less.
The fact is that middle-class New Jerseyans are footing the hefty bill for the NJEA’s “one-percenters.” Maybe that helps explain why New Jersey teachers pay the third-highest dues in the country and New Jersey taxpayers pay the highest property taxes.
So the next time a teacher sees her paycheck take a big cut to pay her dues or a citizen bemoans his sky-high property taxes, remember that $6,400,000 of them are going to NJEA’s own “one-percenters.”
Mike Lilley is an Adjunct Scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and former Executive Director of Better Education for New Jersey Kids.This piece was originally posted at AEIIdeas.