This month, a moving first-person war story ran in New Jersey’s Gloucester City News. Susan Fischer, an educator who has taught in Monmouth County, NJ for over 30 years, wrote a Letter to the Editor about why she opted out of her state teachers’ union, the NJEA.
She’s tired of paying for executive salaries and activism instead of education:
I have been a public school teacher for the past 30 years. The statewide NJEA leadership could not do anything for us when my local union went on strike – twice. Instead, our statewide leadership has taken the money we have earned through hard work and passion and rewarded themselves with huge six-figure salaries year after year. Moreover, like most of the teachers I know, I have never felt comfortable with all the political ads the NJEA sponsors throughout the state.
Sound familiar? Year after year, hundreds of thousands of dollars are drained from teachers for one-sided political ads and corruption. This is exactly why so many have opted out after the Janus decision.
It’s not like Susan’s a quitter. She tried to work within the system to improve it:
Over the thirty years, I tried reaching out to the NJEA to ask them to meet its membership halfway. I asked that instead of having some of the highest dues in the country, to seriously consider reducing them. I asked that they stop hiring so many Trenton lobbyists. But there was never any response. For 30 years, the silence has made me feel disrespected and ignored.
And she didn’t pick this fight. Susan has nothing against unions that support and respond to members:
I support my local union—the Monmouth County Education Association—which has used their very tiny slice of the union dues pie to educate and empower their membership through in-service training, terrific workshops and community outreach programs.
I am not anti-union, anti-NJEA, anti-teacher, or anti-public schools. These are all catchphrases those in Trenton like to throw around. However, based on the priorities and decisions they have made, after so many years, I am done with the statewide leadership. I wish I could continue to support my local and county but unfortunately they are all connected. Hopefully that will change one day too.
Susan isn’t alone in her experience: many Pennsylvania teachers support their local union but feel burned by their state or national affiliate. A 2016 Rasmussen poll indicated that just 20 percent of likely U.S. voters think union executives do a good job representing their members. 57 percent say union leaders are out of touch.
Teachers did not start in the profession under the illusion that it would be easy. But teachers’ unions don’t have to make it harder. Respect and communication with veteran teachers like Susan Fischer should be a union priority.
Until it is, more and more teachers like Susan will be opting out.