NJ’s Other Teachers Union Endorses Sweeney

Steve Sweeney. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

New Jersey’s largest teacher’s union — the New Jersey Education Association — and wants to oust Senate President Steve Sweeney and has endorsed the Republican candidate for his Senate seat this year.

But on Wednesday, the second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, threw its support to Sweeney for the November elections.

“Put simply, Steve is a powerful force for public education in New Jersey,” AFT-NJ President Donna Chiera said in a statement. “He is a pragmatic, pro-labor elected official who routinely puts what is right before what is easy.”

The NJEA has the opposite view, describing Sweeney as a fake Democrat who has betrayed the labor movement through a series of deals cut with Gov. Chris Christie. NJEA leaders say they will stop at nothing to oust Sweeney this year. A 527 group, Garden State Forward, funded by the NJEA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on attack ads and mailers. And the NJEA’s political action committee recently endorsed Sweeney’s Republican challenger, Fran Grenier, although he does not share their positions on key school funding questions.

AFT-NJ represents 30,000 teachers, faculty and staff in New Jersey while NJEA represents 200,000 educators and school workers. In Sweeney’s South Jersey district, the AFT has no presence except for a local that represents Rowan University workers. The rest is NJEA country.

“As Senate president, he has refused to post any legislation regarding costly unfunded state testing mandates on local districts,” Susan Clark, president of the NJEA-affiliated Gloucester County Education Association, wrote in a letter to the editor on NJ.com. “Further, Sweeney has advocated school funding changes that pit students against students and community against community.”

To the AFT-NJ, however, the school funding reform plan Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) are trying to get Christie to approve is a primary reason for the endorsement.

The standoff between Sweeney and the NJEA came to a head last year when Sweeney broke a promise to get a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee pension funding through the Legislature and onto the New Jersey ballot.

A victory for Sweeney in November all but ensures that he will get another term as Senate president due to significant support for him in the Democratic caucus.

The AFT is affiliated with the AFL-CIO union, one of Sweeney’s biggest supporters.