Sweeney is not a “Union Guy”

Melissa Tomlinson is an educator in New Jersey, the exec director of Badass Teachers Association and a board member of South Jersey Women for Progressive Change.  Promoted by Rosi.

It’s time to get one thing straight. If you are in a union leadership position it does not automatically mean that you are a union guy! 

The number one creed, motto, moral rule to live by for union members is “The pain of my brothers and sisters is my pain too.” Senator Sweeney seems to have forgotten this as he tours the state, appears on TV, and gathers supporters for his Path to Progress agenda. 

Collective bargaining rights – the foundation piece of union strength – are held on to by union members with an iron fist and protected with our dying breaths. People have literally died to obtain these rights, and we honor that! Union workers in New Jersey, especially educators, have systematically had these rights stripped away as the list of legal collective bargaining topics grows shorter and the list of illegal targets grows longer. Educators can’t even include class size in negotiation conversations when smaller class size is the most effective way to improve educational outcomes. Instead, we are at the mercy of districts that can easily apply for waivers with the state. 

But this is a digression. 

The irony of it all is that Senator Sweeney is the General Vice President of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union. In his path to power it seems like Senator Sweeney has forgotten what it really means to be a member of the family we call Union. 

Instead, he spouts off a narrative that pits sections of our society against each other, an easily-seen manipulative game of distraction that uses sleight of hand to direct the public attention to circle around and point the finger of blame directly at teachers and educators, while casting a shadow that also encompasses public workers. The tale told follows the same storyline over and over again – taxpayer vs. public worker – while one of the most important background pieces of information that is left out of the introduction is the fact that public workers are taxpayers too! 

This is me, being screamed at by Chris Christie, while Mary Pat gets her jollies watching.

Take it from me, an educator that was once publicly vilified by an elected official. We don’t retreat to a corner to lick our wounds. 

Sweeney’s talking points as he goes on his state tour are full of half-truths and misdirection. One of his biggest talking points is that the state pays $43,000 on average for the health benefit cost for EACH TEACHER. Yet, this dollar amount is the cost of the top tier of public educators’ health plans, for employees that are at the top of the salary guide. Let’s keep in mind that educators have been paying a percentage of these premiums costs, at a rate of $900 a month for a full family plan, plus local districts pay a share of the premium cost, paid for by local tax dollars (trying to keep it honest here). If the state is paying $43,000 per educator…


So let’s just suppose that Sweeney never lies and all of this is true. Shouldn’t our elected officials be demanding some answers from the healthcare insurance industry? 

Why instead are we allowing ourselves (John Q Public) to be led by our noses and diverted from demanding some answers from those that are really at the root of this issue. 

Why are our state legislators not pushing the will of the people they represent upward to the federal representatives and demanding they sign on to Medicare4All legislation. 

We are we allowing those in power, those with more, those earning profit off of this racket (both elected and non-elected), to pit us against each other as we again demean ourselves to scramble for crumbs? 

Lately I have been hearing the phrase “crabs in a bucket” repeated over and over again. 

I think it fits. 

Featured photo (Sweeney): Saed Hindash/The Star-Ledger. Photo of Tomlinson and Gov. Christie: Dave Weigel.

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