By G. Dunkel
Published Jun 23, 2011 9:38 PM
In the face of mass protests outside the hearing room and disruptions within, the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee passed a bill destroying the right of public sector unions to collectively bargain over health care and pension issues. About 500,000 state and municipal workers will be affected. (AP, June 17)
While this measure is part of a national campaign to limit or destroy unions, what is unusual about New Jersey is that both Democrats and Republicans are cooperating with Republican Gov. Chris Christie on the bill. The Democrats control both houses of the state legislature. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who lists his occupation as organizer for the ironworker’s union, is a sponsor of the bill.
Thousands of workers held a raucous and angry protest outside the hearing in Trenton, New Jersey’s capital. Twenty-five union members, including New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech and Secretary-Treasurer Laurel Brennan, stood up as the vote was about to be taken, locked arms and chanted “Kill the bill” and “Workers’ rights are human rights.” They were then arrested.
“It is with a heavy heart that we even had to be here today to testify against a piece of legislation that would destroy collective bargaining rights for thousands of taxpaying working men and women,” Wowkanech said. (NJ AFL-CIO)
“Only through collective bargaining do workers have a voice — and those who vote for this legislation will be voting to silence the voices of approximately 500,000 workers,” Wowkanech warned the state Senate committee.
Wowkanech noted that the current negative economic conditions were not created by workers. They were created by the greed of Wall Street profiteers, but workers are being blamed.
Both the state and municipal pension and health plans are underfunded by billions of dollars in the long run, although it appears they can continue to meet their current obligations.
While the unions are breathing fire and brimstone about “Chris Christie Democrats,” there is little they can do about them electorally. The primary season is over in New Jersey, and the opponents of these rotten Democrats are rotten Republicans.
According to the June 16 issue of Business Week, there is an additional wrinkle in this attack. Christie wants to stop paying public workers for unused sick and vacation days, which adds up to $825 million. This is a benefit that was granted by public employees at the bargaining table — it shouldn’t be taken away by executive fiat.