As unions rally in Trenton, tea party protesters gather nearby

At the Statehouse in Trenton, members of the AFL-CIO and other unions rallied against efforts to cut benefits and to show solidarity with Wisconsin union workers. Tea party members demonstrated nearby, with one saying unions "get more and more powerful."
At the Statehouse in Trenton, members of the AFL-CIO and other unions rallied against efforts to cut benefits and to show solidarity with Wisconsin union workers. Tea party members demonstrated nearby, with one saying unions "get more and more powerful."
Posted: February 26, 2011

The expanding battle between budget-cutting governors and union members who believe they're fighting for survival landed on the Statehouse steps in Trenton on Friday.

"What's up with your governor, anyway?" asked Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, as union members responded with boos.

"They've taken a lot from us, but they can't take our freedom! They can't take our right to bargain for a better way of life!"

As Gov. Christie seeks to force public employees to pay more toward their pension and medical benefits to help close a state deficit, and as governors across the country look for similar savings in employee costs, organized labor is ramping up its opposition.

The Friday rally was in solidarity with the union workers in Wisconsin who stand to lose most collective-bargaining powers. Christie has expressed support for the Republican governor pushing that plan, Scott Walker, but he has not suggested getting rid of collective bargaining.

Other fights over collective bargaining are looming in the statehouses of Ohio, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

About 100 counterprotesters, many representing various tea party groups in New Jersey, held their own signs and listened to their own speeches not far from the main rally.

As a guitarist led the union crowd in "This Land Is Your Land," one union supporter let loose a multisyllabic curse at the tea party group.

Still, the interactions between the two sides were peaceful, with state troopers forming a blue line of separation as they argued.

"You're corporate shills!" yelled Keith Purce, a Communication Workers of America member from New York, at a group of tea party activists.

As Purce and his group walked away, Robert Hodnovich, a jeweler from Middletown holding a sign for the Bay Shore Tea Party, said the red union rain ponchos that filled the crowd were paid, indirectly, with tax dollars.

"What [unions] did years ago was great," Hodnovich said. "They just got too carried away."

Hodnovich does not provide medical benefits to the few employees who work for him, but he said he would soon.

Many in attendance were members of private trade unions who said they were there to keep union-busting politicians at bay. The New Jersey rally came one day after a similar gathering outside the Municipal Services Building plaza in Philadelphia.

State police said 3,100 people attended the noontime rally in Trenton, the Associated Press reported.

"We're next, we know that," said Jim Lombardi, a 42-year-old from Atlantic City with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

"It's a bad precedent to set, limiting collective-bargaining agreements. It will affect us across the nation."

Teachers, many of whom said they had taken personal days off, said they were there to stand up for their union leaders. Christie often asserts that he has a problem only with teachers' unions, not teachers.

"The union is me, it is part of me," said Anthie Jones, 40, a teacher in Freehold.

Many of the union members showed anger over the bailouts and bonuses for Wall Street banks, arguing that government was enriching the wealthy and making the working class poor. One sign read: "Union busters are the new terrorists."

Joel Winton, of the West Bergen Tea Party, said the unions are "dramatizing the loss of jobs" while ignoring that the state is going bankrupt. Unions "get more and more powerful, and some point is the tipping point, and this the tipping point," he said.

Watching from the outskirts, liberal activist Jay Lassiter wondered if the labor rally was doing anything more than preach to the choir.

"If all this is is a feel-good thing - and they're not registering voters or doing anything productive - then this is a waste of time," he said.


Contact staff writer Matt Katz

at 609-217-8355 or mkatz@phillynews.com. Follow the "Christie Chronicles" blog

at philly.com/christiechronicles.

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