Leadership Changes in the Offing for State Teachers Union

John Mooney | June 14, 2013 | Education
President and executive director both poised to step down from NJEA posts

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s dominant teachers union and among the most powerful state labor unions in the country, is about to go through a big leadership change, with both its president and executive director planning to step down.

Vincent Giordano, a longtime executive in the union and its director since 2007, has told internal staff and his top officers that he will retire in December, following the upcoming gubernatorial and legislative election.

The 200,000-member union’s board is expected to name his successor in the very near future, union officials said.

President Barbara Keshishian will depart this year after her two-term limit expires, succeeded by her current vice president, Wendell Steinhauer.

Giordano was unavailable for comment yesterday, but word of his departure has slowly trickled out after he told his officers in an email in March that he was retiring to spend time with his family, including a future new granddaughter.

“It just does not seem possible to me that so much time has passed since I began my career at NJEA,” Giordano wrote in the email. “I have relished my time working at this amazing organization. For me, working at NJEA has always been a labor of love – I have enjoyed working with the best staff in the nation and, I have cherished my engagement with the wonderful leaders and members with whom I have come in contact over the years.”

Giordano started with the union as a social studies teacher and field representative in Bergen County more than 40 years ago.

His last months will overlap with what is likely to be the union’s big role in the upcoming election for governor and every seat in Legislature, with the NJEA’s frequent adversary – Gov. Chris Christie – on the ballot seeking reelection.

The union has already announced it will put its notable political muscle and dollars behind Christie’s Democratic challenger, Barbara Buono, and its endorsements in individual legislative races are sure to be even more pivotal.

Christie and the NJEA have battled over the last four years, including a bruising fight over pension and benefit reforms and continued clashes over the administration’s other education reforms. Christie has targeted both Giordano and Keshishian over issues ranging from their politics to their salaries.

But the union and Christie also were part of the coalition that ultimately signed off on a landmark tenure reform law last year, and state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf last night had only good things to say about Giordano’s role in those talks.

“I respect him enormously as a negotiating partner,” Cerf said . “I worked with him closely on the tenure bill, and he’s always been a consummate professional.”

Giordano did not mention politics in his retirement email this spring, saying only that he would cherish his years with the union and believed the NJEA’s best days are still ahead.

“If I did not work at NJEA, the only other position that would have been as rewarding would have been playing centerfield for the NY Yankees,” he wrote in the email.