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Middletown NJ Teachers, Secretaries Released From Jail

More information:

New Jersey Education Association Web site

Atlantic Highlands NJ Herald


Messages of support may be sent to:

Middletown Township Education Association
Diane Swaim, president
571 Highway 36
Belford, NJ 07718

Phone:
732-495-2300
FAX: 732-495-9585
MTEA@superlink.net

Two Middletown, NJ educators are handcuffed and led to jail for refusing to go back to work during the strike.

A judge released Middletown, N.J., teachers and secretaries from jail Friday (December 7, 2001) after striking union members agreed to return to work and enter into nonbinding mediation.

During the week, 228 teachers and secretaries had been sent to jail for violating a judge's order that they return to work. It was the nation's biggest mass jailing of striking teachers in 23 years.

MTEA members have been off the job since November 29, 2001. The last contract expired in July.

On Wednesday (December 5, 2001), NEA President Bob Chase attended a Middletown rally and said NEA members throughout the nation would not stand idly by as a New Jersey judge threw striking teachers and school secretaries in jail.

"Pick a fight with any of us, and you've picked a fight with all of us. It's called solidarity," Chase said. "We will not stand for teachers and secretaries being thrown in prison! We will not stand for schools boards that would rather try to intimidate us rather than bargain in good faith!"

Chase went on to challenge Judge Clarkson Fisher to put him in jail too.

"Believe me, there is no prouder place to be this day than in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution…with the good and caring teachers and secretaries of the Middletown Township schools," Chase said.

Following are remarks Chase delivered at the rally:

My friends, I've come here today to deliver a message. It is a message from the 2.6 million members of the National Education Association to the Middletown Township Board of Education and Judge Clarkson Fisher.

Shame on you!

All across America, in over 14,000 school districts, school boards and unions sit down together, tackle the tough issues that we all face, and hammer out agreements. This happens in 99.9 percent of contract negotiations. There is no strike. Schools stay open.

Children attend classes. Life goes on.

But not in Middletown Township! The Middletown Township Education Association has tried to bargain in good faith. But you have not.

Shame on you.

You are sending to jail, like common criminals, teachers and school secretaries who have cared for and instructed your children for years. Shame, shame on you.

You are sending to jail men and women who have dipped into their own pockets for school supplies. Shame, shame on you.
You are sending to jail men and women who stayed after school to help boys or girls struggling with math. Shame, shame on you.
You are sending to jail men and women who worked late into the night grading your children's papers and exams.

Shame on you.

Do you seriously think that the National Education Association will stand by while you imprison our members for standing up for the rights of all teachers and school employees?

Do you seriously think that we will stand by while you refuse to bargain in good faith?

Do you seriously think that we will stand by while you try to shame and intimidate our friends, our professional colleagues, our sisters and brothers?

Well think again!

Pick a fight with any of us, and you've picked a fight with all of us.
It's called solidarity.

And if you don't know what solidarity means, Mr. or Ms. school board member, I suggest you look it up in the history books.
Solidarity is a powerful force when your cause is righteous-and believe me, there is no more righteous a cause than ours here in Middletown Township.

You have made a dreadful mistake. We will never, never, never give in to old-fashioned strong-arm, blackmail tactics. We will never go back to the days when teachers and support staff were treated with contempt by school boards. We will stick together through whatever adversity brings.

Listen to me. We are now in this fight that you started for however long it takes. I repeat-for however long it takes.

Don't you dare think for a New Jersey minute that the individual teachers and secretaries in Middletown are alone or weak. They are not. They are powerful-each and everyone of them. They have 170,000 NJEA members who are supporting them, and they have the support of 2.6 million NEA members-teachers and support staff. Two point six million who look at what's happening here and say," There but for the power of my union, go I." Two point six million who will stand up for children, schools, and what is right for our brethren.

We know what we stand for. And equally important, we know what we will not stand for!

We will not stand for teachers and secretaries being thrown in prison!

We will not stand for schools boards that would rather try to intimidate us rather than bargain in good faith!

We will not stand for school systems that treat us like common criminals for demanding decent, affordable health care!

I have been a local, state or national union leader for more than 25 years. In all that time, I never met a teacher or support staff person who wanted to go on strike. Not a single one. Never. Nobody wants to go on strike. Do you think Robert or Susan Abbot wanted to go on strike? You left them no choice. Shame on you!

Do you think coach Steve Antonucci wanted to go to jail? He most emphatically did not. But you gave him no choice. Shame on you! But we will go to jail we have to-for our collective bargaining rights. For a fair wage. And most importantly of all, for respect.

We prefer labor-management cooperation to conflict. But we know the difference between cooperation and capitulation. We know the difference between compromise and capitulation. And if you don't, then shame on you!

We went into teaching to make a difference in the lives of children, not to become a union activist-and certainly not to go to jail. But for the sake of our profession, our students, and our families, we became union activists. And when you push us, we will push back, in solidarity with our fellow union members.

Remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr., written from another jail, the Birmingham Jail: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

In closing, my friends, I have a very special message for Judge Clarkson Fisher. You are going alphabetically. Well, my name is Chase-that's "C." You must have done the "C's" by now. So arrest me. Send me to jail.

Believe me, there is no prouder place to be this day than in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution…with the good and caring teachers and secretaries of the Middletown Township schools.

So please, Judge Fisher, lock me up too.

Posted December 6, 2001; Last updated December 7, 2001

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