The New Jersey Education Association is a potent political force in New Jersey – perhaps unmatched in power among labor groups – and has been for decades. As president of the state’s largest teachers union, Blistan channels that power from offices directly across the street from the Statehouse in Trenton.
While that power is not unlimited – the union notably failed an effort to defeat Senate President Steve Sweeney at the ballot box a few years ago – the NJEA cannot be ignored both because of its total membership of just over 200,000 and its financial clout. For example, the union is one of the main backers of New Direction New Jersey, a nonprofit organization established to support Murphy’s agenda.
If anyone needed evidence of the NJEA’s influence, it came just before the July 4 weekend, when Murphy signed a measure 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 fervently opposed to such a measure for years. But he, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Murphy and Blistan all touted the potential benefits the proposal could yield in terms of dollars.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the union has pushed for an all-remote start to the school year, and at times butt heads with the governor on the matter. Murphy, instead, allowed school districts the option to go all in-person, all-remote or some hybrid of the two. Most districts have chosen that third option.