On June 24, the AFTNJ Delegate Assembly passed a resolution designating retiring AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera as President Emerit, the first person to receive such designation in the state federation’s history.

“Without Donna’s leadership, AFTNJ would not be the respected labor union it is today in the state of New Jersey,” said AFTNJ President-Elect Jennifer S. Higgins, who will succeed Chiera effective July 1. “Therefore, it is only fitting that we honor her by naming her the first President Emerit of AFTNJ in recognition of all that she has done for the state federation and the members it represents.” 

Two days later, the AFTNJ staff and others gathered at Chiera’s home in Perth Amboy, where she was presented with assorted gifts, among them a crystal award commemorating her years as state federation president.

Chiera’s final message to AFTNJ members is as follows:

“Over the past few weeks, I began to clean out my office. The activity brought back many memories and reminded me of how far our organization traveled. Thirteen years ago, you all put your trust in me to grow and strengthen AFTNJ. It truly was a steep learning curve, working within the higher education and political structure without losing sight of my PreK-12 roots. Before I move to the next chapter of my life, I want to thank you all for your trust as well as your support and patience allowing me to grow into this role.

“Together our organization came together and through our collective voices fought to preserve our public education PreK-12 system and higher education. Our members, leaders and activists were part of national, state and local committees, task forces and commissions. In Trenton we testified on various issues that affect our members’ professional and personal lives. We joined with other unions to protect and strengthen our union rights. By joining community coalitions, we supported the communities our students and members live in. With the support of and resources from AFT national and the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, we became AFTNJ.

“While we have taken the time to celebrate our successes, we — you — need to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. The 2024 presidential election is just months away. The choice is amazingly simple: Joe Biden has proven he supports educators, public education and labor unions. He has worked to reduce student debt, lower prescription drug costs, protect voting and women’s rights, and lower inflation. His opponent is bragging how while he was president, he overturned Roe v. Wade, revised the tax laws to give billionaires breaks, restricted voting rights, appointed a secretary of education who supported privatizing public education through vouchers and charters, and looked to eliminate the rights of organized labor. Biden may not check all your boxes, but if he is not reelected, instead of fighting for building on what we achieved, we will be fighting to keep what we have. To me it is an easy choice.

“At this time, I want to thank the current AFTNJ staff — Krista, Ryan, Jennifer, Shreya, Chris, Rich and Jennie — along with those who came before them. They all pitched in and did what they had to do to promote and grow our organization. Without them I would not have been able to focus on the critical issues we faced.

“Finally, I want to acknowledge my immediate and extended family, especially my husband, Norm. Over the past 13 years, they planned events and activities around my schedule and tolerated me walking away from dinner tables or out of the room during family get-togethers to respond to a call or email. Their support and encouragement empowered me to do what needed to be done.

“Again, thanks for all you have done over these years. I cannot thank you enough.”
Donna M. Chiera

ABOVE: Retiring AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera holds a crystal award presented to her June 26 by the current state federation staff. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

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