Dear New Jersey Teachers: You’re Getting a Raw Deal From NJEA and NEA.

Mike Lilley of the Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey has a new report out, “New Jersey Teachers’ Dues: Why Are They the Highest in the Nation and What Are They Paying For?” Here, he analyzes NJ teachers’ “raw deal”: Doing the math, NJ Education Association (NJEA), the state union, keeps a higher percentage of teacher dues than any other state teacher union in the nation, depriving local branches — “those with the most direct connection to members and where most of the representational work is done” — of equitable support.

Lilley’s report begins with an Executive Summary that I’ve reproduced at the bottom of this post. But here’s a few nuggets from the report itself:

  • To the point above, “NJEA keeps 70 percent of teachers’ dues for Itself – more than any other state union. put another way, the state- and national-level unions take 85 percent of New Jersey teachers’ dues.” The local union gets only 12%.
  • “NJEA feels free to raise its dues at twice the rate of inflation and at a 53 percent higher rate than local dues (31.4 percent versus 20.5 percent).”
  • “Current Teachers’ Dues: $1,146 a Year to NJEA and NEA; $163 to the Local Association To get a representation of the current dues burden (the 2019-2020 school year), SPCNJ researched three districts: South Brunswick, East Brunswick and Paterson. The total dues burden for a NJEA teacher in these districts comes to an average of $1,362 per year. The website Salary.com determined that as of April 2020, the average public 22 school teacher salary was $64,120, so the total dues burden on a current New Jersey teacher comes to 2.1 percent…These teachers currently send $1,146 a year to the NEA and NJEA, over seven times the $163 allocated to their local associations.”
  • “NJEA President Marie Blistan has loudly lamented the reduction in teachers’ take-home pay due to the Chapter 78 healthcare law: ‘premium increases will grow more quickly than salary increases, leading to lower take-home pay year after year.’ Apparently, it is a problem when teachers’ take-home pay is reduced because of the higher premium contributions for Platinum-plus-level healthcare benefits, but when teachers’ take-home pay is reduced to pay for more NJEA political spending and higher NJEA executive compensation, it is all OK.”
  • “[A]n increasing amount of teachers’ dues has gone to richly compensating those [NJEA central office staff]. As indicated above, this has occurred at a time when teacher salaries were stagnant and dues were eating up an increasing amount of those salaries. As can be seen in Figure 16, compensation for the NJEA’s top-ten executives has sky-rocketed, up an average 22.5 percent for the five-year periods before and after the 2013 shift – over three-and-a-half-times the growth in teachers’ salaries for those periods. At an average of $628,095, this places the average top-earning 43 NJEA executive’s earnings solidly in the ‘one-percenter’ category for New Jersey and at over nine times the average teacher.”
  • “In order to pay for these hefty increases, teachers’ dues rise at almost twice the rate of teachers’ salaries.”

Executive Summary

New Jersey’s teachers are getting a raw deal, and most are not even aware of it.  Most spend their energy and passion teaching our children and contributing to their communities, not worrying about where their dues money goes.  But each year, most of their $1,362 of annual dues is spent far away from their local associations.  If the facts about how this money is spent ever came to light, teachers would not be happy.  

The Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey aims to shine a light on these facts. Teachers should know that their dues are the highest in the nation and how they are being spent.  

Because of a legislative regime designed to benefit their state-level union, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), teachers have little choice but to join the NJEA and then have their membership dues withheld from their paychecks.  This NJEA-created funding system has proved highly efficient in extracting dues money from teachers, allowing the NJEA’s leadership to siphon off billions of dollars of teachers’ dues and spend its way to becoming the most powerful special interest in the state.  Perhaps this is great for the political organizers who run the NJEA, but has it been great for teachers? 

With this system in place, the NJEA has not been shy about taking teachers’ money: they take more of it than any other state teachers’ union – by a large margin and for a long time.  

They also keep 70 percent of teachers’ overall dues – also the largest proportion of any state teachers’ union in the country.  Even though most of the representational work on teachers’ behalf is done by their local associations, local associations receive a mere 12 percent of a teacher’s overall dues.  Even the NJEA’s national parent, the National Education Association (NEA), takes 15 percent.  That’s 85 percent of teachers’ dues traveling up to the NJEA and NEA.  

In dollar terms, of the $1,362 in total dues, the average New Jersey teacher now sends $1,146 a year to the NJEA and NEA, over seven times the $163 that goes to the local association.  And ever since the take-over of the NJEA Executive Office by political organizers in 2013, teachers’ dues have increased at almost twice the rate of teachers’ salaries, reducing teachers’ take-home pay.  

And for what?  

First and foremost, outsized and even wasteful political spending that too often has little to do with the issues teachers care about at the local level.  NJEA political spending increased over 50 percent from 2009 to 2018 – more than three times the rate of inflation.  2013 was a watershed year for the NJEA: the political organizers took over the NJEA Executive Office and political spending jumped 34 percent from pre- to post-2013.  This resulted in the post-2013 NJEA spending almost four times more on politics than any other special interest.  By 2018, half of all dues revenues –  $64.5 million – was devoted to political spending.  The NJEA was so awash in dues money that it could heedlessly waste $5.4 million of teachers’ dues on a futile effort to unseat Senate President Steve Sweeney, who won in a landslide.  

And on lavish compensation for the very same executives who directed that massive increase in political spending.  Post-2013, the average top-ten-earning NJEA executive saw compensation climb 22.5 percent to $628,095 per year, well within New Jersey’s class of “one-percenters.”  Meanwhile, teachers saw their pay stagnate, up a mere 6.1 percent, so that the average top-ten exec’s pay rose to more than nine-times what the average teacher earned.  

New Jersey’s teachers paid for all of this.  From 2013 to 2017, they paid for political spending to go up 24.8 percent; they paid for top-ten compensation to go up 22.5 percent; they saw their dues climb 11.8 percent: all of these at two-to-four-times higher growth rates than their stagnant salaries.  NJEA President Marie Blistan has decried reduced take-home pay for teachers due to the Chapter 78 healthcare law, but she appears to be perfectly content to let their take-home pay decline in order to pay increased dues to the NJEA.  

New Jersey’s teachers deserve better.  They should demand better.  

It is time to shine a light on these facts. 

What do you think?

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