Throughout October, more than 116,000 NJEA members from every corner of the state signed a petition. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the organizing power of gathering by hand—not online—the handwritten signatures of a majority of the membership.
The words of the petition are simple and direct. It reads:
As education professionals in New Jersey’s public schools, we are proud that our experience, expertise, and dedication have ensured our schools rank amongst the top three in the country. We care as deeply for our students as we do for our own families. As professionals, we deserve job security without the constant threat of privatization. As professionals, we deserve quality, affordable health care. We cannot sustain bringing home less money annually that is the result of Chapter 78 legislation. We stand united that job security and affordable, high-quality health care are basic rights of hard working people—including educational professionals.
Job security and affordable health care are the bedrock of education policy that works best for children. There are no shortcuts to providing a high-quality education; schools need dedicated and committed staff members and they need consistency over time. Many politicians change during every election cycle, and with those election cycles comes new education proposals. As educators, however, we remain year after year, election cycle after election cycle, faithful to the profession and devoted to our students.
Signatures are more than just letters on a page, they represent our commitment to one another and to the future of public schools. They demonstrate solidarity. These signatures reveal the the pain that educators have been feeling over the course of the past seven years. NJEA members who penned their names to the petition testified to our frustration and our determination to work for change.
These signatures are a good first step, but they are only the beginning of a movement.
Whether it has been from fighting off misguided privatization attempts or rising payroll deductions because of rising health care premiums, educators have been hurting.
In 2011, Gov. Chris Christie signed his infamous law known by most NJEA members as Chapter 78. It was also during his first term that he vetoed both ESP Job Justice bills that had been passed by the Legislature. But gone are the Christie days and, with them, these disastrous policies should be gone as well.
Voters were clear in November 2017 and 2018: they want a New Jersey that supports the middle class—including educators—and that’s exactly what these bills will do: support the middle class.
Gov. Phil Murphy respects educators and has declared his support for legislative relief to Chapter 78 and to both ESP Job Justice bills. But, he can’t pass them alone. It’s time for NJEA members to speak with legislators and move them to action.
Educators don’t do this work for the money; we never have. But educators shouldn’t have to pay a price for their passion. Our dedication to our students shouldn’t demand two and three jobs to support our own families. We shouldn’t have to foot the bill for the state’s past economic transgressions. The more than 116,000 signatures show just how ready educators are to fight for progress.
Behind every signature is a story—including your story. Your story has power. Most legislators do not fully understand what’s been happening to your paycheck. Most legislators think of privatization as a mere cost-saving strategy. It’s our duty, and our responsibility as union members, to share our stories and shed light on the realities of being a public-school employee in New Jersey.
If we don’t, we risk the future of our profession. We risk creating a job market that cannot attract new talent. We risk the destabilization of our schools most essential school personnel. There is no other option; your signature must lead to action.
All members whose jobs have been threatened with privatization must share their stories with their representatives in Trenton. NJEA members who have watched their paychecks go down year after year should show that reduction to our state representatives, so they can see the damage that’s been done.
Let these signatures spark a movement.
To call your legislators about Chapter 78, dial 855-891-CH78 (2478). To call about ESP Job Justice, dial 855-413-ESPS (3777). You’ll first hear a message from NJEA President Marie Blistan, then, with the press of a few buttons, you’ll be dialed through to your state legislators.