Spiller is the new president of the New Jersey Education Association, a union perhaps unmatched in power among labor groups. As head of the state’s largest teacher’s union, Spiller will channel that power from offices directly across the street from the Statehouse in Trenton.
That power is not unlimited – the union notably failed in an effort to defeat Senate President Steve Sweeney at the ballot box a few years ago – but the NJEA cannot be ignored both because of its total membership of just over 200,000 and its financial clout.
The NJEA has begun mending political fences, reportedly donating over $1.25 million to an independent group with close ties to South Jersey political powerbroker George Norcross, a close friend and ally of Sweeney. The NJEA has also donated heavily to New Direction New Jersey, a nonprofit organization established to support Murphy’s agenda and election campaign efforts.
Last summer, Sweeney, Murphy and the NJEA shook hands on a deal finally granting what’s known as Chapter 78 relief, meaning union members could end up paying far less on their health insurance premiums.
That was no small feat: Sweeney had been opposed to such a measure for years. But he, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Murphy and Spiller’s predecessor all touted the potential benefits the proposal could yield in terms of dollars.
The NJEA’s influence plays out in other ways . It wasn’t until August that Murphy said teachers and school employees were told they had until October to get the shot, meaning unvaccinated teachers could set foot in classrooms. Republicans accused Murphy of bowing to the NJEA by holding off on announcing the school employee vaccine requirement for so long while still mandating masks. Murphy has denied that politics played any role in his COVID-19 decision-making.
Should changes in schooling be necessary, such as shifts to remote learning, how to handle booster shots, social distancing and COVID-19 outbreaks, the NJEA and Spiller will no doubt have a major say in what decisions are made.