On Jan. 19 of this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, released financial and demographic data on union members. As the BLS has consistently reported year after year, nonunion workers nationwide earn less than members of a union. In 2017, nonunion workers were paid only 80 cents for every dollar unionized workers earned.

For regular readers of the NJEA Review, this is not news.

In December 2015, the Review published “The Union Pay Advantage,” which compared teacher salaries in so-called “right to work” states and states that, prior to this past June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, were known as “fair share” states. In 2015, the 25 right to work states reported an average salary for teachers that was $6,800 less than the national average—and nearly $20,000 less than the New Jersey average.

This was followed by a look at the union pay advantage for educational support professionals (ESP). Using BLS statistics that included the work of ESP, the story noted that union employees who worked in food preparation and serving-related occupations earned over $100 per week more than their nonunion counterparts. In building and grounds, cleaning, and maintenance occupations, union members earned $188 more per week than nonunion employees. Transportation employees who are union members earned $242 more per week than their nonunion counterparts. In education, training and library occupations, union members earned $226 a week more than nonunion employees.

The message is clear: where union membership is stronger, salaries are stronger as well.

And the benefits go beyond salary.

The same 2015 edition of the Review that reported on teacher salaries also told the story of Jessica, who was born and raised in New Jersey, but moved to North Carolina with her husband. Despite living in an affluent community in that state, the high school math teacher’s salary was so poor she was taking steps to leave a profession she had originally hoped to commit her life to. Instead, she was studying to become a dental hygienist.

In addition to her low salary, she and her colleagues had little power to bargain their working conditions.

“We have so many duties: bus loop duty, hall duty, we have to go around the cafeteria to push trash cans around for the students to dispose of their garbage, lengthy IEP meetings are scheduled after hours, mandatory hall monitoring is imposed, and we’re required to cover the gates at sporting events twice a year at night or after school,” Jessica said at the time. “Some people get paid for extra duties, some don’t. You’re at the mercy of the district.”

There is a union that represents teachers and ESP in North Carolina, but years as a right to work state have taken their toll—while over 95 percent of New Jersey’s public school teachers are members of NJEA or AFT, less than 50 percent of North Carolina educators belong to a union. The impact of that disparity reduces educators’ power in Raleigh to influence policy. The result is less resources in the classroom.

“They’ve taken out huge chunks of the curriculum that’s necessary for students to advance to a higher level,” Jessica said. “They teach about a quarter of the geometry they used to.”

Compare that to the story on Page 25 of this month’s Review: “Relentless NJEA Advocacy Helps Deliver Pro-Public Education State Budget.” This year’s state budget makes the largest annual contribution ever to our pension system, fully funds NJEA members’ post-retirement medical benefits, and provides the largest increase in public education funding in state history. While New Jersey has a long way to go when it comes to fully funding its public schools, the progress that has been made can be credited to the willingness of NJEA members to lobby legislators in Trenton and call them on the phone back home.

This month’s Review includes stories that demonstrate the variety of ways that we are stronger together. Each of them demonstrates what Linden Education Association member Robert Mangel writes on Page 30: “Unionism Cannot Be a Spectator Sport.”

Teachers and ESP in Deptford not only bargained a strong contract, but inspired members to step up as leaders in their local association and their community. Staff at a public charter school in Paterson found their collective voice and organized a new local association despite working in a school managed by an organization particularly hostile to unions. And in schools where the relationship of the union with the district is positive, strong partnerships are possible, as demonstrated in the story, “Leader in Me Program Showcases Students’ Dreams, Goals, Character.” Even our buying power as part of large union is strengthened, as you’ll read in “NJEA Membership Pays.”

As long as NJEA members in every local and county association across the state continue do what NJEA Preservice Secretary Angie Ghaly commits to in her contribution to the Review this month, “I’m Sticking With My Union,” we will strengthen the power and value of NJEA. That is how teachers and ESP in New Jersey will remain leaders in the nation for their students and for each other. 

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