If you are a frequent user of social media—and if many of your online connections are members of NJEA—chances are you’ve seen the meme comparing union membership to gym membership.

There are several variations, but a common iteration of it is, “Union membership is like a gym membership. You can pay your dues, but if you don’t show up and participate, you do not become stronger.”

The underlying message is that a union is much more than a service provider. When we come together as a union, we can pool our resources to advance our interests and our profession, but money alone does not bring us power. Our real strength comes from the proportion of members who are actively involved. Holding a gym membership won’t improve your muscle tone if you never lift a weight, and holding an NJEA membership card won’t bring us strength if we don’t organize to flex our collective muscles.

Fortunately, you belong to a union where members often come together in a show of strength and solidarity. There’s a reason why the words “powerful” and “NJEA” often show up together in statewide news stories—that reason is you.

Holding a gym membership won’t improve your muscle tone if you never lift a weight, and holding an NJEA membership card won’t bring us strength if we don’t organize to flex our collective muscles.

When the jobs of custodians are threatened with privatization, school boards think twice when they look out and see not only custodians, but teachers, bus drivers, secretaries, aides, cafeteria staff and parents filling the meeting room and lining up to ask the tough questions. The local association that represents those custodians can count on first-class research from NJEA’s Research and Economic Services Division, but those facts and figures matter more to the board when 250 members of a 250-member local fill up the school library to deliver that data.

When lawmakers are considering legislation of interest to educators, they appreciate the input of NJEA’s Government Relations staff members, but they pay closer attention because they know that 200,000 NJEA members stand behind the lobbyists. And they pay even closer attention when hundreds or even thousands of members call and email them or schedule appointments to see them.

When a local association and school board are negotiating a collective bargaining agreement, local leaders value the training, experience, strategic mindset and NJEA resources that the UniServ field representative brings to the table. But what a field rep has to offer is effective because of the organizing efforts and relationships that the field rep and the members of the local association establish and nurture every day.

When school district leadership is too attached to the latest fad in public education, the local association leadership knows it can count on NJEA’s Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division to help them separate the fluff from the substance. But it may take an army of local members to convince the district to dispense with the fluff.

There’s a reason why the words “powerful” and “NJEA” often show up in statewide news stories—that reason is you.

Finally, NJEA’s officers and Communications staff members may be quoted in a news item, but that quote is sought out by reporters because of whom those officers and staff represent—they represent you. And as effective as those quotes may be, nothing matches the impact of 200,000 NJEA members talking to their family, their friends, their neighbors and the decision-makers in their communities.

That is why the campaign to secure job justice for educational support professionals (ESP) and relief from the exorbitant health care premium payroll deductions for both teachers and ESPs is member-led. And that is why the campaign may take on a different flavor in different parts of New Jersey. What works in Paterson may not work in Lower Alloways Creek. What steals the show in Vernon Township, might go unnoticed in Tuckerton.

But what works everywhere is organized and determined NJEA members, fighting together in our union, making the most of the resources our dues provide, to advance our collective interests and those of the students we serve.

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