Why the NJEA should thank The Star-Ledger

Teachers at NJEA convention

Just when the leaders of the state’s  largest teachers’ union desperately needed help, who–of all people–becomes their unwitting savior? None other than the chief editorial writer for The Star-Ledger–a man who has spent a good part of his career bashing the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).

The NJEA’s leaders, responsible for a colossal political blunder in the last state election,  so needed someone to change the subject–and that is precisely what Tom Moran did. In a tweet promoting a limp, lifeless column about the union, Moran said he believed Democratic legislative leaders wanted to “murder” the organization ‘s leaders.


The smell of blood and cordite from Texas and Las Vegas still hangs sharply in the air we all breathe. We trudge through the cold, heads down, in literally murderous times. For those who get paid to choose one word over another for public display, invoking the image of murder now is just plain awful and dumb.

Worse yet, the column he was promoting didn’t come close to matching his Twitter-feverish words. It was a typical let’s-get-the-usual-suspects-to-say-what-the-writer-wants-them-to-say sort of blah-blah-blah. No mention of the urge to kill.

Come on–there is no particular reason why Steve Sweeney, Loretta Weinberg, or Joe Vitale–the state senate Democrats quoted–would want to murder the NJEA’s leaders.

If anything, the union’s boneheaded, expensive and unsuccessful campaign against Sweeney had to be wonderfully liberating for them and the state party.

Deep down, the Democrats don’t want to murder the NJEA leaders; they want to send them flowers with heartfelt words of gratitude. The Democrats in the Legislature don’t owe the NJEA a dime, thanks to the NJEA. And, far from demanding an apology from Moran and the newspaper’s management,  the union should be thanking them for changing the subject so effectively.

But, typically, the editorial writer’s blind hatred of everything teacher-union got in the way of common sense.

Now the big gorilla in the room isn’t the naïve and politically inept decision by the union to go after Sweeney by promoting an adoring fan of Donald Trump.

It is murder.

And its invocation allowed the union to move on from Sweeney to this statement:

“There is no place in public discourse for the kind of violent language that Tom Moran used on Twitter yesterday. His casual reference to the alleged desire of some top Democrats to murder NJEA’s leadership is disturbing and inappropriate. If any elected official expressed such a desire to Moran, he should have harshly condemned it, not repeated it as if it is an acceptable or unexceptional statement in the context of a political disagreement.

“Even worse, if no one actually said that to Moran and he invented that language on his own, he should apologize immediately to the leaders of NJEA for his use of violent, terrifying language to promote his article. His animus toward NJEA is no secret, but that does not excuse his utter lack of judgment in using that language. We hold the First Amendment in high regard, but with the right to free speech comes responsibility. Moran’s casual and unapologetic use of violent imagery hurts the credibility of the Star Ledger and of all who value civil discourse.

“We urge all elected officials in New Jersey to condemn Moran’s use of such violent language. It is not only dangerous, but it degrades the level of political discourse by inserting the threat of violence into political disagreements.

“Our leaders are public figures, but they are also educators who have families and loved ones. No one should have to see a public reference to the hoped-for murder of their loved ones. Moran owes a particular apology to the families of NJEA’s leaders for his vile tweet.”

Of course, no one is hoping for the murder of anyone’s loved ones here–and the union’s leaders know it.  But the editorial writer stepped right in it with his loose language.

The truth is the NJEA’s leaders threw the dice in the last election–and they lost. They did not incite Democrats to murder, they weakened the union’s political position,  giving Democrats permission–an excuse, rather–to vote against the best interests of the teachers and children of New Jersey. Like supporting charter school expansion.

Wouldn’t be the first time. The NJEA allowed tenure “reform” to happen. The NJEA allowed the spread of charter schools, especially in Camden. The NJEA tried to cut its own pension deal with Chris Christie.

All of these were signs of weakness. Weakness that should have been obvious to the union’s leaders. Weakness that should concern members.

And the kind of weakness that should have led the NJEA’s political strategists and top leaders to avoid the embarrassment of a losing fight against Steve Sweeney.

A fight that made the union weaker. And will result in additional losses to children and teachers.

But the union’s leaders don’t have to worry about all of that now.

Now, they can scream bloody murder.







  1. There is no doubt that the Star Ledger and Tom Moran are rabidly and viciously anti-NJEA and they have been that way for years. The same for Christie, NJ101.5 and most of the media. Some of these folks claim: “Oh, we are not against unions, we just hate the NJEA because it is evil and Satan’s spawn, don’t you know.” The NJEA made a judgment call by opposing Sweeney who betrayed and stabbed the NJEA in the back and who supported Christie on many things and who is not opposing lame duck Chrisite on appointments to the NJDOE. The NJEA should have probably just withheld its support for Sweeney and just left it at that instead of supporting the GOP guy. The NJEA did support Phil Murphy. So many Democrats give lip service to unions but do very little to actually support unions in the way of legislation; actions speak louder than words. I guess the NJEA was tired of being taken for granted by the Democrats and wanted to send a message. Did it backfire on them? We will see. All unions are under severe attack in this country, especially public sector unions. The union busting has been going on for decades to the point where the private sector unionization rate is about 6.8% of the workforce. The GOP and Trump are stacking the courts with anti-union right wingers who will rule against public sector unions. They may succeed in turning the whole USA into a right to work (FOR LESS) country.

  2. The NJEA should not be condemned because they were acting on the urging of its members to go after Sweeney. However, that mission was a little too late. Members are furious that Sweeney made deals with christie that damaged our profession. He proved his actions to be self serving, and not supportive of teachers, or unions, for that matter. The general public has no idea how the reforms he forced down our throats, with the threat of something worse if we didn’t agree, hurt teachers financially. The general republic is misinformed, regarding tenure and pensions. Taxpayers and editors, don’t seem to care about other public employees, for some reason. They always target teachers and our union. The leadership does not end with the executives of NJEA;many teachers represent our members on county and local levels. That’s were the real damage from the so called reforms is occurring. Some one is getting paid BIG BUCKS to write about public employee unions in a negative light. Someone is selling their soul to the campaign to destroy public education as we know it. This is about money, and they know it. And by the way, your justification of his word choice proves there is a double standard in play. Teachers have been terminated for statements that weren’t half as bad as his.

    1. I did NOT justify “his word choice” at all. I agree. If a public school teacher had publicly said something like “I’d like to murder (candidate)” after an election, she/he would be in deep trouble.

  3. The complicity of the teacher unions in corporate reform will long be remembered. Janus may render the US a right to work country as Joe stated above. Most likely, the unions will bleed members who have tired of the lackluster support. In my view, a union is better than no union, but a strong union would better protect the future of public education.

  4. Tom Moran, from njdotcom, 11-13-17: Quote, “I admit, it stings a little because these guys are scoundrels. As union leaders, they pay themselves Wall Street salaries and benefits with the dues of classroom teachers who earn $70,000 a year on average.
    And they just squandered more than $5 million in union dues in a failed attempt to put a Donald Trump supporter in the state Senate, in place of Senate President Steve Sweeney, the Democratic leader.” End quote.
    Excuse me, calling the NJEA leadership scoundrels sounds like defamation of character. Moran just called the NJEA leadership crooks and/or people of bad character and that’s OK? It’s one thing to disagree with the NJEA but it’s another to demonize, slime and make defamatory attacks on the NJEA. It’s just anti-unionism masquerading as legitimate criticism. As far as I know, the NJEA did nothing illegal and it did not spend $5 million on the Sweeney campaign; the $5 million was for the whole campaign for the whole state. Why all this hoopla about how much the NJEA spent but nothing about all the dark money coming from the anti-union right wingers and libertarians? How dare the NJEA spend money on lobbying and political campaigns? Really? So what’s the solution? Banning the NJEA from lobbying or funding political campaigns? That sounds like selective outrage and selective banning. The school reformers would love to silence the NJEA.

    1. Joe–I don’t favor libel suits. It’s in my job DNA. And I’m no fan of The Star-Ledger’s attitude toward public employee unions. But, frankly, tons of judicial precedent would find nothing defamatory about calling public figures–and the NJEA leadership is made up of public figures–“scoundrels.” It’s fair comment on public figures. You’re right, of course, about the mainstream media’s history of bashing unions while praising, or saying nothing about, the rich who help determine the outcome of our politics. The real issue here is the question of whether such a potentially risky decision–taking on the Norcross-backed machine in South Jersey–should have been taken without a careful consideration of the odds and the consequences of failure. I’m not at all convinced enough careful deliberation went into the decision. I’ve had a number of discussions with NJEA leaders in the past when I’ve wondered aloud why they didn’t go after Christie and his supporters on important issues like the virtual elimination of tenure and the expansion of charter schools (both of whom were supported by the NJEA). The answer generally has been that the NJEA membership could not be counted on to support the leadership in a full out battle against the governor. Yet, here, an attack on one member of the Legislature–Steve Sweeney–was undertaken without a clear path to victory and, apparently, without a ground game that could, at least, make it a close race. I’m not happy about the high salaries enjoyed by NJEA leaders (or newspaper editors–as opposed to reporters–for that matter) but here that truly is an issue for the membership. And members should be asking themselves whether the outcome of this election showed leaders earned their salaries. I don’t think they did and that is why I suggested they resign to allow new leadership to repair the serious damage that has been done to the union’s credibility and political clout. Yes, I know Phil Murphy is NJEA-friendly but many decisions, large and small, will be made under Murphy’s stewardship and legislators on both sides now know the NJEA is far less of a factor than it has been in the past.

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