While he has had success in winning organized labor support lately, New Jersey’s bombastic Republican Gov. Chris Christie showed recently that he hasn’t changed his thinking on teacher unions.
The Newark Star-Ledger reported Friday:
At Raritan Valley Community College, he took a question from a woman who identified herself as a teacher and Rutgers University graduate frustrated by the bad rap he’s given her profession.
“When did the rhetoric change that teachers are part of problem and not the solution?” she said, standing near the tippy top of bleachers in a gym decorated with flags and all the usual trappings of Christie’s trademark town hall meetings. “You’re in a building built with taxes.”
The Republican governor has built a national brand in part on his epic battles with public school teachers, whose pension and benefits he cut after taking office three years ago. Yet he restrained himself.
“You may be surprised to know I agree with most of what you said,” he told the teacher. Christie went on to tout a $750 million higher education bond issue for infrastructure improvements before turning to the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
“I don’t think teachers are the problem. I think unions are the problem,” he said, launching into a diatribe about “shared responsibility.”
“We need to make sure everyone shares somewhat fairly in the costs associated with those types of benefits, which in the main are not offered anymore in the private sector,” he said.
Then he gave the teacher a turn with the microphone. “The teachers are the unions. We are the same people,” she said, explaining that part-timers at the college, like herself, are not eligible for pension and benefits.
Christie said he recognized that the unions were made up of their members but he still believed that there was “an extraordinary divide in my experience between the majority of members and the leadership of unions.”
Still it was more civil than some of his past encounters with teacher union members.