Chris Christie repeatedly blasted the New Jersey Education Association during his eight years as governor. The leader of the state’s largest teachers’ union and the new governor are indicating their relationship will be much different.
Christie was a constant critic of the NJEA, calling it a political thuggery operation that rules by fear and intimidation. He claimed the union’s leaders put their own interests ahead of their members.
“They want to treat the next governor with respect, I’m sure he’ll treat him respect back. They never treated me with respect. Not once. So they got back exactly what they give and probably more than they ever bargained for.”
Governor Phil Murphy has a different attitude.
“This is a state that used to celebrate, used to embrace and respect organized labor and we’ve gotten away from that. So, I would expect with NJEA or AFT or any of the other respective unions, we’re not going to agree on everything, but we’re going to have a relationship without question that is based on mutual respect.”
New Jersey Education Association president Marie Blistan says the attacks and criticism over the last eight years were not productive and won’t be missed.
Now that Christie is gone, she’s looking forward to dealing with Murphy.
“He absolutely aligned with values and core principles that we know are what works for public education. He’s not afraid to try new things, but he’s also committed to working with the professionals in this field to get that done.”
Blistan expects Murphy will be a refreshing change.
“He has spoken with our members across the state in all of their capacities whether it was a bus driver or a custodian, a nurse, or a teacher, in all those categories to get their perspectives and has always treated them respectfully. That indicates right there at the top how we can and we will move forward.”
The union’s relationship with the most powerful lawmaker in the state Senate in a different matter.
The NJEA was angered about the agreement Senate President Steve Sweeney reached with Governor Christie in 2011 to overhaul the public employee pension system because it required workers to contribute more to their pensions and pay more for health care. And the union was upset when Sweeney backed off from a promise to get a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot that would have required the state to increase its pension system payments.
The Education Association spent millions on an unsuccessful effort to defeat Sweeney in 2017.
Even so, Blistan says the union is prepared to work with Sweeney
“We have disagreements but we are both here to do a job and that is to move public education forward, to make sure that our staff who provides those services get the respect that is due them and have the best resources available so that they can in fact do the job that they’re hired to do, which is to educate children.”
But Sweeney isn’t so upbeat.
“I have an enormous amount of respect for the AFT which is the other teachers’ union. I don’t have a lot of respect for the leadership of the NJEA. I think they abuse their members’ money. I think they thought about themselves rather than really worrying about what was best for teachers.”
It's unclear if the frayed relationship will endanger the NJEA’s ability to get legislation through the senate…even if it has a friend in the governor's office.