NJEA’s higher education members met to discuss the impact of county and state politics on collective bargaining for faculty and staff at the state’s 19 community colleges. For the first portion of the day, NJEA Government Relations Director Ginger Gold Schnitzer, Bergen County Education Association President Sue McBride and NJEA Associate Director for Government Relations Mike Flynn discussed the intersection of collective bargaining, elections and political activity.

Schnitzer noted that each county’s board of chosen freeholders appoints the board of trustees for its respective community college.

“When you bargain a contract for your members, you sit across the table from people who are appointed by people who are elected,” Schnitzer said. “If you want to have power at the table, you need to engage in elections.”

But Schnitzer noted that political action must continue beyond the election.

“It isn’t enough to elect leaders who share your goals, you have to continue to communicate with them once they take office,” Schnitzer said. “If you don’t regularly communicate with the people you helped to elect and provide them with information, someone else will.”

Schnitzer noted that all of the work a local association undertakes is a form of organizing whether it is to bargain a contract, to enforce a contract, to provide professional development, or to ensure good education policy—particularly through elections and lobbying.

“There is only one reason we engage in politics: it is for good policy outcomes,” Schnitzer said. “Apply the skills you use in organizing in other areas of your association work to political action.”

It comes down to relationships

McBride noted that while NJEA has higher education members in every county, for the most part, county association presidents—whether teachers or educational support professionals—come from a K-12 background. She stressed the importance of higher education members developing a rapport with their county association leadership.

McBride said that she relies on the leadership teams of the local associations at Bergen County Community College to make sure she knows about and understands the important issues at stake for higher education faculty and staff. For McBride, these include Faculty Association President Tobyn DeMarco, Faculty Senate President Alan Kaufman and Higher Education NJEA Executive Committee Member Peter Helff, among others.

In her position as BCEA president, McBride takes the concerns of community college members in her county to the appointed community college trustees boards and the elected county and state government leaders with whom she has regular contact.

McBride encouraged the leadership teams of the state’s community college local associations to never hesitate to reach out to their respective county association presidents. She said such contacts help county association presidents understand the framework of their particular county’s institution of higher education, and provide the opportunity to explain key issues, personalities, and other important factors.

“I value the interaction with my higher education members because I know what I don’t know,” McBride said.

Brent Costleigh, an associate professor of psychology at Brookdale Community College and an association representative there, told McBride about the sense of isolation experienced by NJEA members who teach at the higher education level. The issues that are important to higher education members should be as much a matter of course for association leadership as K-12 issues are, he said.

“This work comes down to relationships,” McBride said.

She suggested that community college local associations invite county association leadership to their meetings. She also stressed the importance of higher education locals sending representatives to county meetings.

Helff highlighted the value of county associations endorsing freeholder candidates and maintaining a relationship with the freeholder board.

“Even if the county association screens freeholder candidates and asks questions about higher education, it’s important that a higher ed member be at the PAC screening to be able to tell if the answers that the candidates give are good answers,” Helff said.

Flynn discussed the upcoming statewide election and the importance to all members, including higher education members, in the outcome. How Chapter 78 is addressed will be a direct outcome of who wins the governorship and who leads the Senate and Assembly. Chapter 78 is the pension and benefits reform law passed in 2011 that has led to reduced take-home pay every year for PreK-12 through higher education members.

Flynn also discussed NJEA PAC-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Ambassador Phil Murphy’s positions on community college funding and on tuition-free community college for New Jersey residents.

Open space conversations

The afternoon portion of the day focused on the issues chosen by the members attending the summit. During lunch, individual members posted topics that they would like to discuss. After lunch, members gathered at tables numbered to correspond with the topic that drew their interest.

Topics for discussion included contract salary strategies to raise faculty pay for the long term, the concept of tuition-free community college, and the upcoming decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which will affect NJEA and its affiliate’s authority to fair share dues from agency fee members.

For more information on the Janus case, go to the Law and You.

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