JERSEY CITY, New Jersey — Governor Chris Christie’s kind words for Paterson Mayor José “Joey” Torres were almost drowned out by a crowd of an estimated 60 teachers, who booed the Governor and demanded fairer salaries and state contracts.
The Star-Ledger reports that Christie was in town for Torres’s inauguration as mayor as a special guest. Outside City Hall, however, the teachers had gathered to picket the event and draw attention to the growing plight of the Paterson school district, which has been under state control for more than twenty years.
The Ledger notes that the teachers allege that they have been working without a contract for four years and that they have been excluded from contract negotiations currently underway between Christie’s office and the New Jersey Educators Association, the state teachers’ union. The NJEA won the right to negotiate the contracts with the unions in January, but the teachers told the newspaper that they organized independently, not with the union to protest Christie in part because they had been excluded.
“We’re not being treated as professionals,” Ryan Cohen, the leader of the protest, told the Bergen Record, adding that “teachers are leaving Paterson in droves,” a flight extremely detrimental to the school system. Many teachers emphasized the fact that Christie used public funds to give his workers in Trenton an average 23% salary increase while not addressing the problem with teachers in Paterson. Others also noted that Christie had spent millions on the investigation surrounding the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge last September – a private investigation that was worth more than ensuring fair salaries for many of the teachers whose district is under state control.
Footage uploaded to YouTube of the event in Paterson shows a boisterous display of anti-Christie sentiment. Protest attendants can be seen holding up signs with slogans like “Christie’s staff gets 23% pay raises – Paterson school staff gets ZERO!!!” and, in the hands of a child, “How do you expect my mom to feed me?”
Christie’s sour relationship with the teachers’ union goes back well into the beginning of his first term as governor, when he garnered conservative favor by vowing to keep unions from imposing demands on the people of New Jersey that would hurt the budget. This protest was not a product of the NJEA, however, as he is now in negotiations with the union – to the detriment, according to this crowd, of the teachers themselves.
The Ledger notes that the crowd continued booing until Christie clarified that he would not be giving a speech, as “I’m happy to be here to celebrate Joey Torres’ inauguration… He’s the guy you want to hear from.”