Christie takes on the teachers’ union

Taking on the teachers’ union has made New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a political star, writes Matt Bai in the New York Times Magazine.

“The argument you heard most vociferously from the teachers’ union,” Christie says, “was that this was the greatest assault on public education in the history of New Jersey.” Here the fleshy governor lumbers a few steps toward the audience and lowers his voice for effect. “Now, do you really think that your child is now stressed out and unable to learn because they know that their poor teacher has to pay 1½ percent of their salary for their health care benefits? Have any of your children come home — any of them — and said, ‘Mom.’ ” Pause. “ ‘Dad.’ ” Another pause. “ ‘Please. Stop the madness.’ ”

By this point the audience is starting to titter, but Christie remains steadfastly somber in his role as the beseeching student. “ ‘Just pay for my teacher’s health benefits,’ ” he pleads, “ ‘and I’ll get A’s, I swear. But I just cannot take the stress that’s being presented by a 1½ percent contribution to health benefits.’ ” As the crowd breaks into appreciative guffaws, Christie waits a theatrical moment, then slams his point home. “Now, you’re all laughing, right?” he says. “But this is the crap I have to hear.”

“Christie seems to be winning at every turn” in his fight with the New Jersey Education Association, Bai writes.

About Joanne


  1. This nice thing for Christie is that outside of the budget, the repercussions of this fight won’t be seen for many years- probably until after he’s out of office. If this negatively affects the education of kids in New Jersey, he won’t be held accountable, but you can be certain that someone will.

  2. I live in Jersey and voted for him. You’re welcome.

  3. On the same hand, he could be viewed as a transforming agent that saved the state public education system.

  4. Nice to know you voted for a sociopath, Stacy.

  5. Mike, You specifically are welcome.

  6. Christie is right to call out the teachers’ union argument that what they’re doing is about the quality of education. Teachers’ unions don’t care about the quality of education kids receive. Instead, they only care about getting the best possible deal for (first) their leadership and (second) their membership.

  7. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Indeed, if you think about this in industrial terms, the teachers are in exactly the right position to sabotage the assembly line and claim that their lack of pay and benefits caused a drop in productivity.

    Seriously: imagine if a teacher’s union adopted a “read from the textbook in front of the class for a year” tactic. Instead of striking, they just do a crappy job and refuse to educate kids.

    Now the kids are suffering, and they are suffering “because” (in a loose sense) of the teacher pay issue.

  8. Michael,
    Please, please, let’s get rid of teacher tenure. We owe CHILDREN educations, not TEACHERS jobs.

  9. The teachers’ union is not about the quality of education; it’s about power for the union leadership and jobs, money and benefits for all.

    In the late 80s ,during contentious contract negotiations (more money and benefits) the Montgomery County, MD (suburban DC) union pushed a “work-to-the-rule” action, wherein teachers would refuse to do anything not specifically spelled out in their current contract. By no means did all teachers participate, and perhaps not even most, but many did. There were a number of HS teachers who refused to write recommendations for college for their students, or wrote them only if students included a letter from their parents to the County/Board supporting the union demands, which the teacher would mail. These were kids applying to highly competive colleges, which required letters from academic teachers, not just guidance counselors (who had to write recs because it was in their job description). In my book, deliberately sabotaging college applications for their students is colossally unprofessional and only writing them with a parent letter just adds bribery and extortion.

    Fast forward to a few years ago. In a meeting about MS and HS PE requirements, a parent suggested that playing a season of a school sport should count as a semester of PE, which used to be the case in a number of districts. Many parents supported such a change because it would allow additional opportunities for an academic or music elective. This was a school where a very large number of kids played one sport and many played two or more. The immediate reaction of the Board and the teachers present; ” But then we wouldn’t need as many PE teachers!” The fact that their immediate reaction was about adult jobs, as opposed to possible benefits for kids, was telling.

    Bottom line; the union is not about what is best “for the kids”.

  10. Our district union includes in every newsletter and communication the importance of sticking together, that the union is a family, and that the union is dedicated to the protection of every member.
    That being said, our district faces a 5 million deficit next year and is currently considering any and all ways to balance the budget and save teaching positions, including asking the union to concede the scheduled raises for next year.
    There’s been no official discussions within the union because the district has yet to actually ask for the concessions, but the informal discussions that I’ve heard amongst the union leadership and long-timers dismiss the concessions outright. They’re nothing more than a bunch of Judases, selling out their “family” for a 1-2% pay raise…especially when the ones being sacrificed are the ones who can least afford being laid off since they have college debt, little to no savings because they are new to the work force, and many have young children or are expecting.

  11. Unions should *not* be concerned about the children. In non-right-to-work states like California, where even non-union-members like me are compelled by law to give money to a union, the unions should be allowed to focus *only* on the pay, benefits, and working conditions of the people from whom they extort money. It’s the job of the state legislature, the elected school board, the school administration, and the parents to look out for the children.

    I think what Christie is doing is great.

  12. Darren-
    Agreed…the unions should not be concerned about students. The problem is, and I’m not sure how to fix it, is that the unions and their supporters have done a great job portraying themselves that way.

  13. “The problem is, and I’m not sure how to fix it, is that the unions and their supporters have done a great job portraying themselves that way.”

    Yup, that’s the problem right there. Why can the NEA get away with calling itself the National Education Association, again?

  14. SuperSub, Yes they wrap themselves in “what’s best for the children..” but in their world what’s best for the children is always better pay and benefits, more rigid work rules, and fewer options for parents.

  15. –This nice thing for Christie is that outside of the budget, the repercussions of this fight won’t be seen for many years- probably until after he’s out of office. If this negatively affects the education of kids in New Jersey, he won’t be held accountable, but you can be certain that someone will.

    Hogwash that this is nice for him. Christie was told the pensions wouldn’t bankrupt NJ until 2020, and he’d be out of office by then, so what did he need to care about it for?

    The answer is that kicking the can down the road is what got us into this mess, and we can’t be sure that it won’t be terrible before 2020, as it’s pretty terrible for the 20% under or un employed right now.

    He decided to do right by his constituents and face these problems. He gets vilified for it. He gets death threats for it. But he still does it.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    It would be nice to know if any union leaders over the last two or three decades ever inquired as to whether the pension fund was funded.
    I used to do some benefits work. It’s laborious, if you don’t have tables, or since about 1980, computer programs–which everybody in the biz has–but you can figure out how much must be on hand every year to pay for the anticipated bennies. Used to be the DoL and the IRS (under ERISA) required proof that defined benefit pension plans be sufficiently funded with each year’s corporate tax return.
    Lots of folks–see the Big Three–and the government seemed to have gotten waivers or something. Nothing in the bank.
    Thing is, pensions which are not funded look good to the members and to the admininstrators and the state. The members like the idea and the rest know they won’t have to bother finding the money. That will be somebody else’s problem.
    So, outraged union members; When was the last time your leaders demanded to see the pensions were fully funded?
    Oh. They didn’t? And you didn’t ask them to?