NTU President Joe Del Grosso--"Say it ain't so, Joe!"
NTU President Joe Del Grosso–“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

On Labor Day, the day we celebrate working men and women and their unions, the Newark Teachers Union said this to the anxious parents of New Jersey’s largest city: “We cannot be seen as aiding or abetting anything that would disrupt the operation of the Newark Public Schools. ”

In short, the NTU told Newark’s parents that,  as they face the anxieties of an opening day in a school system in which an inept megalomaniac named Cami Anderson holds the system’s rudder, they are on their own. The one organization that might have brought down the whole rotten infrastructure of state control of the city schools decided to bail.  It did offer these, well, not so encouraging words:”We are in solidarity with the organizers”–of the boycott.

In some ways, I understand and sympathize with the letter sent to “Brothers and Sisters” by John Abeigon, the NTU’s director of organization. He warned that a strike in behalf of the boycotting parents could be seen as “conduct unbecoming” a licensed teaching professional and NTU members might be fired, maybe even face the loss of their licenses.

The way Newark teachers did more than 40 years ago. At that time, teachers were jailed, some for up to six months. They faced dismissal and loss of their licenses. They were beaten. For two months they struck.

Two months. It was rough but they didn’t lose their licenses.

I also know the NTU faced a practical as well as a legal problem. If it sought a strike vote and failed, or if the vote passed but the strike failed, then the union’s leadership certainly would have to resign and the union itself might collapse. I was present nearly 50 years ago when the leadership of the Newark Teachers Association asked for a strike vote and they were laughed off the stage. The NJEA affiliate has never recovered.

Yes, there were serious risks in the NTU’s active support of the boycott. Just as there were serious risks every time a teacher union struck–including in New York and in cities throughout the country in the 1960s and 1970s. Just as civil rights leaders faced serious risks. Just as the organizers of the Freedom Schools in the South 50 years ago this year faced death.

Think of the consequences of not acting. Think of what has happened in New Orleans. A district without public schools. Think of what is happening with attacks on tenure. Teachers–would you rather fight to protect public schools in Newark or take your chances with non-union, non-tenure, low-pay charter schools that will dominate the future? Schools in which TFA-ers take your jobs and block your pensions? Schools that do not hire many minority teachers and discriminate against children with serious needs?

In the past, if the consequences were important enough, teachers unions have acted decisively. With children at immediate risk now, with all that is at risk now–how much more important could the consequences be?

This might have been the big moment, the decisive moment,  in the fight for public education and the fight against the privatization and resegregation of urban schools by the nationwide pro-charter, anti-union, anti-tenure corporatization movement.  A strong teacher/parent boycott of the “One Newark” plan would have been the national embarrassment Chris Christie could not ignore and still remain a credible presidential candidate. He would have to cut a deal with Mayor  Ras Baraka and state Sen. Ron. Rice and parent and union leaders–a deal that certainly would have led to the return of local control and the radical modification of the “One Newark” plan.

But that won’t happen now.

So, as much it hurts me to say this, the action of the NTU leadership was a betrayal.

A betrayal. I have to say it because it is true. The NTU could have started months ago to work with parent groups–with parents at the building level. Instead its leaders pursued some delusion about how David Hespe–Christie’s puppet–was going to get rid of Anderson. Pipe dreams–fantasies that also sucked in the new mayor for a while.  Christie loves Anderson because she is a liberal white Democrat oppressing the black and brown people of Newark while she spews vile neo-liberal lies about who is at fault for school failure.  She is a favorite of The Star-Ledger’s editorial writers for the same reason–come on, now, this is a liberal, how could she possibly be a racist? She’s a liberal–how could she be wrong about unions?


Randi Weingarten, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), helped solidify Anderson’s position in Newark by agreeing to a contract in which public school teachers would be paid merit bonuses from private money arranged by the Cory Booker/Mark Zuckerberg conspiracy. I have been present I don’t know how many times when Weingarten promised the people of Newark she would never abandon them.

Well, now she has. Big time If she were walking a picket line Thursday while parents kept their kids home from school, the national media would have been there and Christie would have looked like the chump Christie.

But I don’t blame just the NTU for betraying the boycott movement. They are not alone. The ministers who signed a letter demanding a moratorium on Newark but have since remained as quiet as a whitened sepulcher also have betrayed the parents of Newark. The mayor’s insistence he cannot be a “rah-rah” cheerleader for the boycott also is a betrayal. I like you, your honor. I wanted people to vote for you and cheered when all the money-changers on Wall Street could not defeat you.

But you owed the people more than a statement saying they didn’t need you. They do need you. They need you to be the radical mayor you promised to be.

Here’s the problem and it’s a problem that will not go away. Christie, Hespe, and Anderson have all broken either the law or at least the reasonable expectations of decent behavior in order to conspire with Booker to make Newark the charter school capital of the state, if not the nation.

They ignored the charter laws. They ignored the laws governing the closing of schools. They ignored certification laws and regulations so that rank amateurs like Anderson and her minions can hold down six-figure jobs. They used personal and business interests to steer hundreds of millions of dollars to privatized schools in Newark. They ignored common decency by allowing Anderson to say Newark children would turn to crime if the schools were closed for the NJEA convention. And, again, when she made children come to school during snowstorms that closed charter schools. Right now, the state is breaking a common expectation of decency by allowing what even Anderson’s swooning swain at The Star-Ledger calls an “untested” transportation experiment that most certainly will create chaos and may even cause injury.

These people are the bad guys and they break the rules. They break the rules and they get away with it.

You–the NTU, the ministers, Mr. Mayor–you are the good guys and you tell the people of Newark you cannot break the rules. You cannot strike because it’s against the law.  You cannot engage in political activity–since when?–because you might lose your tax exempt status. You can’t intervene in the schools, shut them down until you’re sure the kids are safe, because that would break the rules.

The people of Newark, the children of Newark, suffer and they suffer mightily because the bad guys break the rules and the good guys obey the rules.

Sorry, friends. I hold with Jesus Christ. I hold with Martin Luther. I hold with Gandhi. I hold with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. All of them good guys who broke the rules.

Save the children, break the rules.



  1. I am cautious to add anything to what you have written because it is truth and powerful and sad.

    So with due deference to your insights and prose, I add this with humility. Those unwilling to break the rules should realize that they are playing the exact role set for them by the bad guys. Fearful, subservient, and cautious. Until the good guys break the rules – rules set by and selectively enforced by the bad guys, the good guys become complicit in the evil. There is no middle of the road.

  2. Preach it, Bob! You — not Tom Moran — should be leading off the S-L’s Perspectives section. If I were currently pastoring a church in Essex County (as I did for 9 years), I’d invite you to preach on our sacred responsibilities to our children and their teachers.
    A Labor Day lesson: Following the Pullman strike in 1894, US Commisioner of Labor Carrol Wright stated in an official report that, although the Pullman Compny’s position was legally right, it was morally wrong.
    Mayor Baraka, Union President Del Grosso, the law is wrong, do what is right: join the boycott.

  3. Great article, Bob! I can’t believe the NTU is not supporting the boycott even with their future as career teachers being challenged by charter schools and the Newark One implementation. If it dealt with their current wages, they would be striking. So all that talk of the inability to disrupt school operation is a bunch of “crap”. They will need the public support when charter schools minimize and eliminate their teaching credibility, wages, and tenure. When that time come, the citizens of Newark should not support them. And say “WE TOLD YOU SO!!”

  4. This quote referring to Christie says it all: “I don’t consider the governor an enemy or an enemy of public education,” said Joseph Del Grosso, president of the 5,000-member local for the last 15 years. “I actually have great respect for the governor.” – NJ Spotlight May 13, 2010

    Del Grosso considers the real enemy to be a caucus within his union. Luckily, rumors are that he isn’t running for President anymore, but most of the full time staff that will follow him don’t look much better either. No Plan – Little action – Big Salaries.

  5. As a product of the Newark Public Schools and a veteran educator, I find it reprehensible that so little attention is paid to what’s good for kids. School is the place for kids to be safe and to flourish. With all the turmoil, nothing good can happen, at least for the kids. Big business thrives, the district and state leaders are well compensated, but the kids’ dreams for a bright future are dashed while the adults push their own agendas.
    Our future is at stake, folks.

  6. Wow, a very powerful article which is sure to aggravate many people; the usual suspects (Anderson-Hespe-Christie, etc.), friends and allies. I was going to disagree with you until I completed the article and you laid out all the points. All that being said, if I were a teacher in Newark, I don’t know if I would have had the courage to vote for a strike. I may have voted for some kind of in-school protest; maybe all the teachers just standing in front of the school before school started? I was in a strike many years ago in a different school district in NJ. It was not a pleasant experience but the teachers were placed in an insufferable situation, the vote for a strike was almost unanimous. I will never forget one of our own veteran, tenured teachers crossing the picket line along with the scab substitute teachers while some of the leadership were facing possible jail time. The strike worked and for the most part, the parents were not against us.

  7. Like Cory Booker, Cami Anderson is not a liberal! She is a political “Trojan Horse” like Booker. They pose as Democrat and/ or Liberal, politically. But in actuality, they are Republicans in form of Joseph Lieberman.

  8. A bit harsh on the NTU Bob. I understand your frustration, we all share the pain resulting from Anderson’s pathology. However, the NTU must first and foremost protect its members. The climate today is not the climate of 40 years ago.

    In retrospect perhaps we all let our guard down along the way….but it is not too late…I ask you and your readers not to despair. Good always triumphs over evil…the fight must and will continue…

    1. I do not agree that good always triumphs over evil–at least not in time for the people who are hurt by the evil.

      1. Unfortunately, you are correct…

  9. The NTU hasn’t supported teachers in almost 10 years. Weingarten sold the NTU out with the merit pay contract, and Joe told the media what an outstanding contract it was. If it was so outstanding, why is the current step 10 almost $5000 less than step 10 was 6 years ago? Why are teachers making less now than they were when the started, given they have more experience and credentials? Why are neophytes in other districts and in Newark charters STARTING at salaries substantially higher than NPS veterans, even though NPS has longer calendar years, more paperwork, less resources, extremely limited technology, and in some cases longer days (all for lower salaries than we’ve had in the past)? We can’t speak to media, we are strongly encouraged to tread lightly when speaking to parents, and the morally bankrupt union rides the fence. In all my years, I’ve never seen a more incompetent, inactive, disorganized, and corrupt union.

    1. I cannot agree the union is corrupt. Like most institutions and politicians–Ron Rice SENIOR excepted–the NTU believed it was paying by the old rules. With the Broadies and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER)–the old rules are gone. Time to get real and fight by the new rules. Remember–it is always better to seek forgiveness than permission.

      1. I meant morally corrupt. They’ve been passive for far too long. They have been playing both sides of the field for some time. They have done nothing of influence in ages. When a newly formed parent advocacy group turned union is more effective than one thats been around for years collecting massive dues, it’s time for a change. The parents are more unified than the NTU constituents.

  10. The game is rigged – echoing your conclusion, Bob, was Chris Hedges:

    “Play by the rules and we lose”

  11. Collaboration and cowardice. It seems certain people are only brave when they can threaten journalists with lawsuits. One ego under attack warrants the threat of court, but a community under attack warrants lily-livered, yellow-bellied empty words and inaction. Despicable, but unsurprising.

  12. Your blog hit me hard. I am totally for the children in Newark and have been for the past 20 years, but there is also so much truth in what you are saying. Teachers are scared for their jobs. There is often 250 applicants for a teaching position somewhere else. It is very difficult just thinking about losing or walking off your job. Too many schools were closed and now there is nowhere to put these children. I am in a renew school with class sizes upwards of 30+ students. Serious- we are a struggling school as it is, now it has been compounded by doubling our class size. This is a mess!!!

  13. The strategy of a boycott is the opposite of what’s needed. Take it from a veteran of the 60’s and 70’s…not a boycott…a sit-in. You want to take back the schools? Take them back and don’t leave…demand that the children get the education they deserve and dig in.

  14. So what else is new???? Our Union has longed bailed out on us over the last few years. Don’t know whose pocket DelGrosso is in now. What we fail to say is that most of the staff in Newark Public Schools are NEW teachers and are AFRAID to make waves. Back in 1976 when I started teaching I went on strike–brand new teacher but I knew where I needed to be. The new people are afraid to lose their jobs so the NTU does not really have much to stand on. However I do agree the NTU has bailed out on the kids, parents and staff. SHAME ON ALL OF YOU> I will NOT be renewing my NTU retirement dues.

  15. This decision by NTU is the difference between true stakeholders and what we call “steak”-holders. When teachers are from, for and of the community they will stand with their friends, families, neighbors, fellow worshippers . . . because they have a “stake” in the future of their community. Otherwise, it’s all about the “steak.” I’m not mad at ’em. Just understanding their position and managing my expectations.

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