As the New Jersey legislative session was set to begin, AFT president Randi Weingarten took some time on Jan. 27 to talk with members of AFT New Jersey and the Health Professionals and Allied Employees about the importance of getting actively involved in political education and advocacy.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is pushing an agenda filled with attacks on K-12 education through undermining tenure and promoting vouchers, as well as a hastily conceived plan to merge higher education institutions. Medicaid is likely to be targeted, and further attempts to diminish public employees' healthcare and pension benefits are in the offing.
The economy has created an opportunity for the "scapegoaters and the demonizers," said Weingarten. "Instead of taking the responsibility of governing in tough times seriously, they are pointing fingers" and attempting "to turn the very people who are trying to make a difference in the lives of others into villains."
It's unfair, and our members see it, said Weingarten. "They want to know what we are going to do about this. How are we going to make it better?"
AFT affiliates in New Jersey are working on legislation to protect members. "We have to work together, not just with one another, but with state lawmakers to get the best possible legislation," Weingarten urged. "We have to come together with a quality agenda to engage members."
Members are understandably frustrated over legislation passed in the last session that has chipped away at the ability to bargain healthcare, changed pension rules and cut funding for education. "We can't sit it out" this session, Weingarten said. "We have to find a way to work together."
The last two years have shown us a whole new world, she added. "If you look around this country, you see a new movement growing out of a moment. It's not just in Wisconsin or Ohio, it's all over."
Active, involved members have really made a difference in this movement, Weingarten noted. "Every real movement that is successful has two components: students and the labor movement. You are the key to both." [Adrienne Coles/photo by Bruce Gilbert]
February 1, 2012