To the editor:
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent Janus decision, there is much being said about the future of public employee unions. I’m a proud NJEA Educational Support Professional (ESP) member, and I’m frequently asked whether I have any plans to leave the union. My answer is a clear and unequivocal no. As a school employee, I was never forced to be a member; I chose to be one. I, along with the other ESPs in my local, was offered the opportunity to join our local union several years ago and quickly voted to do so.
The main reason for our decision was simple: as individuals, we have little to no say about our working conditions or bargaining power when dealing with a school district while the district has business agents and lawyers, all well-versed in the law and how it applies to school employees. That presents a power imbalance that is insurmountable, even by a well-educated individual. ESPs working in our school districts are often vulnerable to mistreatment and, as the majority of us do not have tenure or job security protections, are reluctant to speak out for fear of losing our jobs. Being a union member affords us the opportunity to restore the balance, have a voice, and ensure that we are treated fairly by our employers.
It seems that unions have been under more public scrutiny within the last decade and have withstood a number of vicious attacks from those seeking to dismantle them. One popular tactic that is continually used is to try and sow dissent into an organization and then watching the turmoil that ensues, and we see that in the news daily. Wildly inflated reports of union leaders’ salaries are just one example of how outside individuals try to influence members’ feelings about their union. However, imagine a company with 200,000 employees; what would the top executives make? Certainly even more than the exaggerated false figure floated, and yet that seems to be acceptable. Frankly, I want my professional interests represented and protected by the most highly qualified individuals, and I am willing to pay a little more to have it.
In addition to the representation and protections I receive from the union, I also get real and substantial savings. For me, it’s the equivalent of joining a shoppers club, but it comes with NJEA membership. I save much more than my membership for the year, just in the discounted insurance I get through the union. Add to that discounts at retailers, travel discounts — even a new car at an affordable price when I need one — and the membership pays for itself many times over.
Last, as a union member, I receive free training on an array of topics that improve my knowledge and understanding of the job I do. The NJEA regularly sponsors workshops around the state that enrich both me and my colleagues — and, by extension, the districts where we work and the students that we care for. We take our jobs seriously, and our ongoing commitment to professional development is one of the many reasons why our public schools are among the best in the nation.
So, why do I want to be a union member? It’s simple: It pays off. I get back more than I spend in the savings opportunities I use as a savvy shopper; I get the benefit of free training that I use to become a more valuable employee; and I have the strength of an organization that gives me a voice and protects me and my interests. I call that real value.
Finally, and perhaps most important, I will continue my membership because I refuse to be used as a pawn by wealthy, powerful interests whose real purpose is to take from me the power of a union. Our country’s motto is “E Pluribus Unum,” which means out of many, one. That’s what a union is, and it’s what my membership means to me.
Editor's note: The author is a paraprofessional in the Readington Township public schools and a member of Readington Township Education Association and the New Jersey Education Association.