Third Legislative District Democrat Steve Sweeney got hugs and kudos Tuesday from the other teachers union at Rowan University. The American Federation of Teachers has endorsed the incumbent Senate president’s re-election, despite disagreements on some issues like public employee pensions.
“And don’t you think we had a couple of harsh words with each other when that pension deal was going on a few years ago? Yes, but you know something … this is a guy who walks the walk with working people,” said Randi Weingarten, AFT president.
That puts the AFT at odds with the NJEA, New Jersey’s largest teacher’s union with 200,000 members. It has let loose a barrage of attack ads in a determined effort to dislodge Sweeney.
“This week alone there’s $1 million on network television between both sides. In one week, yes, and it’s been escalating. This is, in my mind, a personal vendetta that is wasting a whole lot of their members’ money,” said Sweeney.
He says the race could end up costing $16 million, and some estimate a record-shattering $20 million, but that doesn’t seem to deter either side. The NJEA says its war against Sweeney’s rooted in the pension issue. Sweeney did get Gov. Chris Christie to sign a bill forcing the state to make quarterly pension payments, but the NJEA wanted more.
“He has not funded that pension the entire eight years he’s been here despite promises that he would do this and do that. He has not fulfilled that,” said NJEA President Marie Blistan.
Instead of Sweeney, the NJEA’s backing a Republican candidate, Salem County nuclear power plant worker Fran Grenier. Grenier is a Trump supporter and unlikely choice for a union that rarely backs Republicans at all, and indeed wholeheartedly endorsed liberal Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy. But it’s adamant about Grenier.
“Whether it was school funding, collective bargaining, workers rights, pension obligation, Fran Grenier came in completely aligned with what it is that we need to have happen,” said Blistan.
“My opponent is a Trumper, a big time Trumper … His Facebook page said, ‘If your salary comes from taxpayers, you’re not a taxpayer, you’re a tax user,'” said Sweeney.
Grenier agreed to be interviewed, but then said he had to go to work, instead. Meanwhile, the AFT’s New Jersey President Donna Chiera says the two unions agreed to disagree.
“I’m respecting their process and they must’ve made that decision based on what their membership wanted,” said Chiera.
Chiera says democracy is messy and that after the LD3 knockdown and drag out, teachers will have to close ranks and work together.