One for the Books

The NJSPBA Education Committee has come up with a course catalog that will give Locals and their members the knowledge to make them strong

By Mitchell Krugel 

One of the NJSPBA’s latest and greatest think tanks convened recently to address one of the union’s highest-impact objectives. The members in the room were not your average Joes.

Rather, Dunellen Local 146 State Delegate Joe Dudley and Montclair Local 53 State Delegate Joe Savittieri joined Allenhurst-Ocean Township Local 57 State Delegate Luke Sciallo to spearhead a brain trust ramping up the PBA Education Committe.

The education committee has developed a curriculum that will perpetuate an enduring history of innovation in education. That is dedicated to expanding and sharing knowledge. That will fortify a distinctive and distinguished learning environment. That will create and apply knowledge by thinking and doing, preparing for leadership in a rapidly changing world. That will be a place of discovery, creativity and innovation and a place with deep traditions focused on creating brighter futures. That will enhance the lives of members through leadership in learning, discovery, engagement and economic development.

So, no, these are not the promotional phrases and objectives from the pages of the PBA education course catalog. Truth be told, these are words that come from website pages describing the mission at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford and other renowned institutions of higher learning in the U.S.

But they are more than apropos here because a review of the PBA education offerings will enable members and their Locals to achieve learning at a similarly lofty level. It is a curriculum that could create a B.S. degree or an MBA in running a Local. Really, no BS.

The PBA University curriculum is geared to achieving a degree of knowledge that merits what the committee submits as the primary objective: An educated member is the strongest member.

“If you have the information, if you get educated, who’s going to be stronger than you? And, by proxy, what Local will be stronger than yours?” asserts Dudley, the chancellor of this initiative
as education committee chair. “We want to get you the best information that we can. We want it to keep your attention. And we want you to walk out going, ‘That was really good info, man. I’ve got to tell my guys about this.’”

NJSPBA First Vice President Pete Andreyev shared the same incredulous reaction when reviewing the proposed course list. He recognizes that the curriculum is specifically tailored to issues and challenges that come up at just about every NJSPBA state meeting.

“Our association tries to provide all the tools necessary for Locals to be successful,” Andreyev confirms. “And one of those tools would be this education committee, where they can learn from people who’ve been in the trenches or are people who are experts in their field.”

Book smarts 

The current education committee syllabus grew through several inputs, including the gospel from NJSPBA President Pat Colligan. At some point during every state meeting in the past maybe five years, Colligan has warned Locals about the importance of running and tracking their budgets and finances.

“There’s a story every month, it seems, of a Local finding out it’s broke because somebody didn’t keep track or somebody made off with the funds,” he has been heard to say.

As a result, two classes that have become part of the PBA University curriculum are Bookkeeper Training and Intro to QuickBooks. Geared to treasurers but also suggested for presidents, vice presidents and trustees who have to review monthly and annual financial statements, the finance section educates Locals about documentation responsibilities that can prevent President Colligan from relating more horror stories at monthly meetings.

Assessing members’ knowledge and needs enabled the education committee to snowball with course offerings just like the finance track. Another point of retention seemed to arise whenever Sciallo and Berkeley Heights Local 144 State Delegate Pat Moran came to the podium at state meetings to recap happenings within the state PBA’s judiciary and bylaws committees.

“I was talking to Luke, and we were like, ‘If this is such an issue, what does it take to put something together?’” Dudley explains. “He goes, ‘Not only can we do it, I know exactly what points to hit on.’ He brought Pat on board, and that’s the type of expertise we have to give our members the knowledge.”

Accordingly, a track for judiciary and bylaws governing, conducting hearings within the Local, adhering to State PBA bylaws, drafting and adopting bylaws and such was born. This track to help with day-to-day work for Locals also includes courses titled “Executive Board Cross Training,” “Grievances Mediation & Arbitration for Grievable Local Issues” and “Officers’ Rights Update.”

The PBA’s resident labor professor – Labor Relations Coordinator Mike Freeman, the Summit Local 55 State Delegate – and renowned attorney Stuart Alterman are teaching the latter two of these offerings, respectively. Their presence at the head of the classes follows the lead Savittieri has created teaching the New State Delegates training for the past six years.

That’s the expertise Dudley believes has come to PBA University, and one that accentuates the benefits the union offers members. It’s also a reason the PBA is able to cite its education program when talking to collective bargaining units that want to leave the dark side and come over to PBA representation.

“The PBA provides so many benefits that it comes out head and shoulders above all organizations,” Alterman praises. “And many members, particularly newer ones, and even newer presidents and delegates, don’t even know their benefits and rights. That makes this education even more powerful.”

Executive Board Cross Training is a crucial aspect of this program. All board members should know the intricacies of every position because there will be a time when one board member
goes out on disability or has to deal with an issue that prevents her or him from doing the Local work.

Alterman also reminds that all the courses are imperative because as a Local leader, you now have direct access to the law enforcement executives in your agency.

“You need to exercise those rights uninhibited and know what remedies you have if somebody says you can’t exercise those rights,” he adds. “So the PBA is providing conduits of communication to get answers for all member benefits and all member questions.”

But wait, there’s more.

The PBA University course catalog includes “Basics of Fundraising” and “Fostering Labor/Legislative Relationships.” These are two offerings that bubbled up from education committee brainstorming to address opportunities Locals don’t realize they have the means to attempt, need to do or don’t know how to do.

“It’s something outside the box that a lot of Locals don’t think of,” Dudley comments. “Some of it came about through necessity. Some of it came about in a very fluid way over time. And some of was, ‘What else do we need? OK, we can do that.’ And I see no reason why we can’t get as comprehensive a catalog as we want that provides the most up-to-date information to our members.”

Crack the books 

Savittieri relates that as many lightbulbs go off at education committee meetings as they do in any of the classes. Bright ideas have inspired the brainstorming, and he attributes the energy to following Dudley’s lead.

Again, these are not your average Joes when it comes to doing the business of the PBA. If you have ever been in session with Dudley, you know the only time he isn’t thinking about a new idea is when he is asleep.

The rest of the committee includes Middletown Township Local 124 State Delegate Anthony Dellatacoma, Hamilton Township Local 66 State Delegate Thomas Clugsten, Irvington Local 29 State Delegate Kumiko Woods, Barnegat Township Local 296 State Delegate Chris Ebert, Union County Police Local 73 State Delegate Jamar Hall, Brett Keepers of West Essex Local 81, Edison Township Local 75 State Delegate Scott Luks, Toms River Local 137 State Delegate Jesse Robertazzi, Essex County Prosecutor’s Local 325 State Delegate Eric Serio and Somerville Local 147 State Delegate Vito Spadea. They have combined their unique experience to spawn something they all wish they had when they first became union leaders.

“I’m in my 11th year as delegate and I was president for 14 years, so my whole career has been union leadership,” Savittieri states. “When I started, I had to have a foundation of learning. And pretty much back in the day, there was nothing like this.”

Dellatacoma reports that the committee meetings to build the curriculum took into account how younger members access information and want to have it at the touch of a fingertip. And he notes the impact of the plethora of knowledge available.

“If we’re able to give you the tools to be a better member on a Local level, I think it just builds confidence,” Dellatacoma begins. “Confidence to walk into a mayor’s office. Even confidence dealing with fellow members because you know what you’re talking about.”

Registration is now open, and you can view the course catalog here on page 33. When asked for recommendations about which course might be best to start with, the PBA University chancellor comes back with this response:

“I’ll tell you what, I feel like the executive board cross training is important,” Dudley says. “But then I want to push the fundraising. But the seminar about legislative relationships is great. There aren’t enough people doing that. But you also need to have the QuickBooks training.”

Yes, it’s hard not to be excited. Knowledge is indeed power, and the power of this curriculum makes it something you need to tell all your guys about.