Sue Fischer retired after serving as an Italian teacher for 32 years in Monmouth County, New Jersey. A strike in her first school district led to her leaving and landing a fulfilling 20-year career in another New Jersey school district.
The strike early in Sue’s career was her first experience with how irresponsible the union, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), could be, she said. Early in her career, Sue had been very active in the union. But Sue realized after the strike “how powerless the union really was when it came to protecting teachers and students. The union couldn’t do much,” she said. In New Jersey, striking is illegal for teachers, so some of Sue’s colleagues went to jail because of this strike. It made her wonder, if the union was willing to have its own members arrested, what else might they be doing that harms their members?
Through the years, Sue paid attention to how the union spent members’ dues money and how they influenced politics in her state. So, when the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision came down, she was ready to leave the union—but her fight wasn’t over yet.
Sue said that after the court ruling, she contacted her colleagues about their union membership. “Many were eager to leave the union but nervous,” she explained. “Some even thought if they left the union, they would lose their pension. They waited to see how I would be treated after I opted out,” she said. After receiving her opt-out letter, Sue’s school district told her that she had to wait a few more months before she could leave the union. She believed this was a violation of her recently reaffirmed Constitutional rights, so Sue contacted an attorney for help. Sue explained,
I decided to sue the governor of New Jersey and the NJEA for putting up these legal obstacles to opting out. The good news that came out of that was the entire state of New Jersey found out that they can opt out. We were on the front page of the paper on election day. We made it in Politico. We made The Wall Street Journal. So, the information got out, and not just teachers, but state and municipal employees found out that they could opt out as well.
But Sue’s passion for educating others about their rights didn’t end there. She is a member of a Facebook group for New Jersey educators and says that through that venue, she’s “been able to let teachers know how simple it is to opt out.” The group provides support and a sounding board for teachers who have questions about their union membership. Along with this Facebook group, Sue shared that, “AFFT is one of the most professional, well-organized associations I have ever been a part of. Very often, teachers are afraid that if they leave the union, they’re going to lose their voice.…That is not true.” Sue noted that retired and active teachers alike have their voices heard and even amplified by AFFT.
Reflecting on her entire experience with the union, Sue said she does not “want to give all unions a bad rap because they are not all the same.” She added, “Unfortunately the NEA and NJEA, who are supposed to be in the business of looking out for its teachers and therefore the students, have lost their way.”
Sue said she believes that people become teachers because they love working with children. She wants students to be educators’ primary focus and unions to put their resources into supporting educators rather than focusing on their own political agenda.