NJ Teachers & Union Members: Here’s What Pres. Obama is Thinking About You

And it’s mixed.

This isn’t strictly New Jersey, but it’s germane as hell when you consider that Gov. Christie is building a national future for himself on the backs of public employees in New Jersey. And Democrats and independents will want to know where the president stands – in clear opposition? Christie’s making NJ the forefront – along with states like Wisconsin and Ohio – of a national GOP attempt to shift public thinking away from its historical support of union workers as the bedrock of the middle class to a belief that union workers are the people greedily stealing from and ruining the middle class. But unlike the leaders of those states, our governor has skillfully maneuvered that message – here, but especially nationally to movement conservatives hungry for his 2012 candidacy – into big-league GOP stardom. Is it presidential? He keeps demurring, but he does it like wallflower who can’t stop lifting her skirts for all the boys to see. Especially the boys in Iowa.

But Barack Obama is the president. Blue Jersey, is the president’s message strong enough, consistent enough, and clear enough to oppose the well-funded anti-union propaganda campaign of Gov. Christie and his disciples?

You tell me.

Here’s a portion of Pres. Obama’s remarks, yesterday at an outdoor Town Hall-style gathering at the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, northern Iowa. The questioner is Bev Kromgezmi, a high school social studies teachers who taught some of the people in yesterday’s crowd. His answer, after the jump.

THE PRESIDENT:  How was she?  Was she a good teacher?  (Applause.)  You got thumbs up.

    Q    What can I say?

THE PRESIDENT:  What did you teach?

Q    High school social studies.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s important stuff.

    Q    Many unions, especially public sector unions, helped you get elected in 2008.  Those public sector unions and their members gained their salaries and benefits through collective bargaining.  Recently, those benefits have been under attack.  And I realize that this is a state issue mostly, but what can you do to help support collective bargaining in the states and, most of all, support the public sector unions, the middle class, many of whom are union members?  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Jump for his answer.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, let’s make one thing clear.  The right of workers to come together and join a union is part of what built America’s middle class.  It’s the reason why we’ve got a minimum wage.  (Applause.)  It’s the reason why folks have weekends.  It’s the reason why you have basic protections on the job from an abusive employer.

    There are a whole range of things that people take for granted, even if they’re not in a union, that they wouldn’t have had if it had not been for collective bargaining.  (Applause.)  So I think it is very important, whether you are in a union or not — and I speak particularly to young people, because you’ve grown up at a time when in a lot of circles “union” somehow is a dirty word — to understand all this is is people joining together so they’ve got a little more leverage; so they’ve got better working conditions, better wages; they can better support their family.

    And a lot of us entered into the middle class because our parent or a grandparent was in a union.  Remember that.  (Applause.)  When I hear this kind of anti-union rhetoric and anti-union assaults, I’m thinking these folks have amnesia.  They don’t remember that that helped build our middle class and strengthen our economy.

    Now, you’re right.  Most of this activity right now is being done at the state level, although I will tell you that some of the assaults on collective bargaining are taking place at the federal level.  You remember this FAA situation where they were shutting down the airports for — threatening to shut down the airports and we were going to be laying off tens of thousands of people?  The reason that happened was because folks on the other side in the House of Representatives decided, let’s try to slip in a provision that could make it harder for people to collectively bargain in the aviation industry.  And Democrats wouldn’t go along.  And so they said, okay, well, we’re not going to renew funding for this.

    So we’re seeing some of that at the federal level as well, and we’re fighting back, pushing back against these efforts to diminish the capacity to exercise their basic freedoms and their basic rights.

    Now, at the state level, in addition to just providing vocal support for public employees, what I also have been trying to do is to help states so that they can meet their obligations to their public employees and to emphasize how important it is to our future collectively that we have, for example, teachers that are getting paid a good wage.  (Applause.)  We can’t recruit the kinds of teachers that we need in the classroom.

    And in most countries that are doing well right now educationally, their teachers are revered.  They get paid on par with doctors and engineers, because there is an understanding that this is a critical profession for the future of the nation.  (Applause.)

    I do say, though, to my friends in the public sector unions that it is important that you are on the side of reform where reform is needed.  Because the truth of the matter is, is that at a time when everybody is belt-tightening, there is nothing wrong with a union saying to itself, you know what, we know budgets are hard right now.  Let’s sit down and say we’re willing to negotiate so that we’re making some sacrifices to maintain the number of teachers in the classroom and keep class sizes at a reasonable level.  We’re willing to make some modifications in terms of how our pension systems work so that they’re sustainable for the next generation of teachers as long as it’s a conversation, as opposed to it simply being imposed and collective bargaining rights being stripped away.

    So I think it’s important — remember we talked about shared sacrifice and burden sharing.  Well, this is an area where there’s got to be burden sharing as well.  If a public sector employee is able to retire at 55 with 80 percent of their wages, and the average public sector employee has got a 401(k) that they’ve just seen decline by about 20 percent and they have no idea how they’re going to retire, and they’re feeling burdened by a lot of taxes and they don’t feel like the public sector employers are making any adjustments whatsoever to reflect the tough economic realities that are facing folks who are not protected, then there’s going to be a natural backlash.

    If there’s a feeling that unions aren’t partners in reform processes in things like education, then they’re going to end up being an easy target.  So there’s got to be an understanding of, on the one hand, we’ve got to revere public employees — I was saying when I was in Cannon Falls that people are tired of politics, but they’re not tired of government.  They may not realize it, but government are our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Government are our teachers in the classroom.  Government are the FEMA folks who help people when there’s a flood or a tornado or a natural disaster.  (Applause.)

    But we also have to acknowledge — and sometimes Democrats aren’t good at this — is acknowledging that not every program in government is working perfectly and we’ve got to make adjustments to become more efficient and more productive, just like the private sector does.  And the more we’re willing to be open to new ideas and reform and change, the more we’re going to be able to rally public opinion behind all the outstanding work that public employees do as opposed to public opinion being turned against public employees.

 

NJ Teachers & Union Members: Here’s What Pres. Obama is Thinking About You

And it’s mixed.

This isn’t strictly New Jersey, but it’s germane as hell when you consider that Gov. Christie is building a national future for himself on the backs of public employees in New Jersey. And Democrats and independents will want to know where the president stands – in clear opposition? Christie’s making NJ the forefront – along with states like Wisconsin and Ohio – of a national GOP attempt to shift public thinking away from its historical support of union workers as the bedrock of the middle class to a belief that union workers are the people greedily stealing from and ruining the middle class. But unlike the leaders of those states, our governor has skillfully maneuvered that message – here, but especially nationally to movement conservatives hungry for his 2012 candidacy – into big-league GOP stardom. Is it presidential? He keeps demurring, but he does it like wallflower who can’t stop lifting her skirts for all the boys to see. Especially the boys in Iowa.

But Barack Obama is the president. Blue Jersey, is the president’s message strong enough, consistent enough, and clear enough to oppose the well-funded anti-union propaganda campaign of Gov. Christie and his disciples?

You tell me.

Here’s a portion of Pres. Obama’s remarks, yesterday at an outdoor Town Hall-style gathering at the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, northern Iowa. The questioner is Bev Kromgezmi, a high school social studies teachers who taught some of the people in yesterday’s crowd. His answer, after the jump.

THE PRESIDENT:  How was she?  Was she a good teacher?  (Applause.)  You got thumbs up.

    Q    What can I say?

THE PRESIDENT:  What did you teach?

Q    High school social studies.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s important stuff.

    Q    Many unions, especially public sector unions, helped you get elected in 2008.  Those public sector unions and their members gained their salaries and benefits through collective bargaining.  Recently, those benefits have been under attack.  And I realize that this is a state issue mostly, but what can you do to help support collective bargaining in the states and, most of all, support the public sector unions, the middle class, many of whom are union members?  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Jump for his answer.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, let’s make one thing clear.  The right of workers to come together and join a union is part of what built America’s middle class.  It’s the reason why we’ve got a minimum wage.  (Applause.)  It’s the reason why folks have weekends.  It’s the reason why you have basic protections on the job from an abusive employer.

    There are a whole range of things that people take for granted, even if they’re not in a union, that they wouldn’t have had if it had not been for collective bargaining.  (Applause.)  So I think it is very important, whether you are in a union or not — and I speak particularly to young people, because you’ve grown up at a time when in a lot of circles “union” somehow is a dirty word — to understand all this is is people joining together so they’ve got a little more leverage; so they’ve got better working conditions, better wages; they can better support their family.

    And a lot of us entered into the middle class because our parent or a grandparent was in a union.  Remember that.  (Applause.)  When I hear this kind of anti-union rhetoric and anti-union assaults, I’m thinking these folks have amnesia.  They don’t remember that that helped build our middle class and strengthen our economy.

    Now, you’re right.  Most of this activity right now is being done at the state level, although I will tell you that some of the assaults on collective bargaining are taking place at the federal level.  You remember this FAA situation where they were shutting down the airports for — threatening to shut down the airports and we were going to be laying off tens of thousands of people?  The reason that happened was because folks on the other side in the House of Representatives decided, let’s try to slip in a provision that could make it harder for people to collectively bargain in the aviation industry.  And Democrats wouldn’t go along.  And so they said, okay, well, we’re not going to renew funding for this.

    So we’re seeing some of that at the federal level as well, and we’re fighting back, pushing back against these efforts to diminish the capacity to exercise their basic freedoms and their basic rights.

    Now, at the state level, in addition to just providing vocal support for public employees, what I also have been trying to do is to help states so that they can meet their obligations to their public employees and to emphasize how important it is to our future collectively that we have, for example, teachers that are getting paid a good wage.  (Applause.)  We can’t recruit the kinds of teachers that we need in the classroom.

    And in most countries that are doing well right now educationally, their teachers are revered.  They get paid on par with doctors and engineers, because there is an understanding that this is a critical profession for the future of the nation.  (Applause.)

    I do say, though, to my friends in the public sector unions that it is important that you are on the side of reform where reform is needed.  Because the truth of the matter is, is that at a time when everybody is belt-tightening, there is nothing wrong with a union saying to itself, you know what, we know budgets are hard right now.  Let’s sit down and say we’re willing to negotiate so that we’re making some sacrifices to maintain the number of teachers in the classroom and keep class sizes at a reasonable level.  We’re willing to make some modifications in terms of how our pension systems work so that they’re sustainable for the next generation of teachers as long as it’s a conversation, as opposed to it simply being imposed and collective bargaining rights being stripped away.

    So I think it’s important — remember we talked about shared sacrifice and burden sharing.  Well, this is an area where there’s got to be burden sharing as well.  If a public sector employee is able to retire at 55 with 80 percent of their wages, and the average public sector employee has got a 401(k) that they’ve just seen decline by about 20 percent and they have no idea how they’re going to retire, and they’re feeling burdened by a lot of taxes and they don’t feel like the public sector employers are making any adjustments whatsoever to reflect the tough economic realities that are facing folks who are not protected, then there’s going to be a natural backlash.

    If there’s a feeling that unions aren’t partners in reform processes in things like education, then they’re going to end up being an easy target.  So there’s got to be an understanding of, on the one hand, we’ve got to revere public employees — I was saying when I was in Cannon Falls that people are tired of politics, but they’re not tired of government.  They may not realize it, but government are our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Government are our teachers in the classroom.  Government are the FEMA folks who help people when there’s a flood or a tornado or a natural disaster.  (Applause.)

    But we also have to acknowledge — and sometimes Democrats aren’t good at this — is acknowledging that not every program in government is working perfectly and we’ve got to make adjustments to become more efficient and more productive, just like the private sector does.  And the more we’re willing to be open to new ideas and reform and change, the more we’re going to be able to rally public opinion behind all the outstanding work that public employees do as opposed to public opinion being turned against public employees.

 

Comments (5)

  1. DSWright

    Ummm… no. He was near silent on Wisconsin and Jersey and oh yeah… this

    Must have missed him out there.

    Reply
  2. Bill Orr

    This is a typical response from President Obama displaying the best and the worst of how he answers questions. He provides an intellectual, in-depth, lengthy, complex, and well-thought out response with both the pros and the cons – the type of brilliant, cogent, and clear analysis that we have seen from few if any past presidents. However, he says too much and loses his audience in the process. Particularly in his current campaign mode he would do much better to provide a forceful, clear, direct and short response – preferably one that is memorable.   I love the guy, but Obama is Obama and often his own worst enemy.  

    Reply
  3. Jersey Jazzman

    So teachers should be paid like doctors and engineers. But they need to “make some sacrifices” because times are tough.

    OK, I’ll tell you what, Mr. President: the average general practitioner in the US gets about $160,000 a year. The average teacher gets about $50,000.

    Let’s make the average teacher salary HALF of the doctor’s salary. That’s quite a sacrifice for a teacher, don’t you think? Since they get paid the same as a doctor in other countries…

    (I voted for him in 2008, and I’ll vote for him in 2012. But don’t ask me to like it.)

    Reply
  4. czarejs

    Look I’m not gonna say I love all of what the President has done or is doing, but I have to disagree with the tone of the comments here. He is talking strategy. He didn’t say anything other than we have to be willing to

    “… sit down and SAY we’re willing to negotiate so that we’re making some sacrifices to maintain the number of teachers in the classroom and keep class sizes at a reasonable level.  We’re willing to make some modifications in terms of how our pension systems work so that they’re sustainable for the next generation of teachers as long as it’s a conversation…” He is saying that we have to have a way to get the public behind us. “If there’s a feeling that unions aren’t partners in reform processes in things like education, then they’re going to end up being an easy target.” Is there something in that quote that is not true?

    Jazzman: I love your blog, but spreading the idea that you have to hold your nose to vote for Obama ijust doesn’t help. He was never gonna live up to everyone expectations, but If one the clowns on the other side wins, it will be worse, much worse and you know it.  

    Reply
  5. HurtPillow

    I remember that and it’s truly a betrayal.

    Reply

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