Donna M. Chiera, AFTNJ’s president since 2011, is not seeking reelection this year and will retire after her current term, which ends June 30.

Chiera broke the news to members Jan. 24 during the AFTNJ Executive Board meeting. She subsequently informed the AFTNJ staff, then told the members who attended the Delegate Assembly meeting on Jan. 29.

The next day, Chiera detailed the reason behind her decision. With her 70th birthday on the horizon, she felt the time had come for her and husband Norm Tankiewicz (a retired Perth Amboy educator) to see and do what they wanted, whenever they wanted.

“For most of our life together, spending time with family and friends was scheduled around calls, meetings, Zooms, elections — the list goes on,” she said. “Over the past year, I decided it was time to live our lives on our time.” 

Along with her husband, Chiera credited mentor John Fallan for “guiding me through good and tough times” while she held leadership roles in AFT Local 857/Perth Amboy Federation concurrent with her teaching duties. As AFTNJ president, Chiera said she received constant support and guidance from various labor leaders, chief among them AFT President Randi Weingarten, as well as New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charlie Wowkanech and Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan.

“There were countless legislators who opened their doors and listened and respected our voices, even though we weren’t the biggest and richest, but because they recognized the importance of our message,” Chiera said.

She added, “I have come to think of our organization as the American Federation of Teams New Jersey. It begins with the vision and direction of the officers and leaders. The office staff — through their commitment and efforts — works to make that vision a reality. Our activists and members — through their trust, support and love of their professions — continue to advocate for our policies, programs and values to improve the quality of life for all our students and the communities they live and work in. I have been lucky indeed to know and work with so many amazing people.”

There was no shortage of praise for Chiera following her announcement.

AFT President Randi Weingarten: “Donna embodies the compassion, dedication and toughness of an educator. That is her soul. She is a straight shooter, deeply hardworking and never backs down from finding solutions to problems, or fighting the good fight if necessary. In all her roles — as president of the Perth Amboy local, president of AFTNJ, an AFT vice president and chair of the AFT Teacher Program and Policy Council — Donna has devoted countless hours to helping teachers exercise their voice, and stood up for professional dignity and development. She also is completely devoted to the work of our profession, particularly early childhood education, and the importance of literacy. But it’s also Donna’s work in the classroom and in New Jersey politics that distinguish her as a remarkable person and labor leader. I will miss her, and so will our members.”

Gov. Phil Murphy: “It is because of people like Donna that we in New Jersey have the privilege of boasting about our school systems. A veteran teacher and a champion for educational workers’ rights, Donna has spent her career standing up for what is right. Her steadfast advocacy and commitment to New Jersey’s educator workforce will be sorely missed. I thank Donna for her partnership and wish her well in retirement.”

New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charlie Wowkanech: “Donna Chiera has dedicated her entire career as a teacher and labor leader to improving the education system in New Jersey and across the nation. She has been an asset to her members, to students and to the labor movement. Whether it was in the halls of Congress, the New Jersey State House or union halls, Donna never missed an opportunity to amplify the voices of her members. Her dedication and leadership will be missed by all those who have worked with her throughout her career. Thank you, Donna, for all you have done and enjoy retirement!”

Husband Norm Tankiewicz: “There are no words to address adequately the depth of pride I have in Donna’s growth over the years she has served as AFTNJ’s president. The poise, composure, competence and sensitivity she demonstrates every day are natural outgrowths of her upbringing.

“Donna’s path to AFTNJ president started with her work in AFT Local 857 in Perth Amboy as a Ceres School building rep in the 1980s. By 1990, she was the executive vice president, then president for more than 20 years, bringing good contract settlements to her members, teaching her special needs students with the same love and devotion she brought to them every day prior, building and strengthening interpersonal relationships to the benefit of the district and community and, as a result, being identified as someone to watch here in New Jersey. And since 2011, I’ve watched with admiration as she’s flourished in the role of AFTNJ president.

“For 25 years now, Donna and I have built a life together. She is my everything. I am eternally grateful for her love and friendship. While she has interacted and built relationships with superintendents, board members, governors and even U.S. presidents, she remains, at heart, a teacher. Those of us who have learned so much from her have so much to be grateful for and to her. May her example inspire those who will seek to follow.”

ABOVE: AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera speaks March 13, 2023, at the Fund NJCU rally in Jersey City. (Photo by Chris M. Junior)

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